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North Carolina Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Regulatory Appointment As House Leader Says ‘Heavy-Handed’ Tactics Not Helping Legalization’s Fate



A Republican North Carolina senator is making it clear that he intends to see his medical marijuana legalization bill pass this session despite some obstinance among GOP leadership in the House—and he’s even gone so far as to include medical cannabis regulatory appointments for the yet-to-be-enacted program in a new measure that passed the Senate last week.

But Sen. Bill Rabon’s (R) recent acts of defiance—including attaching an amendment to an unrelated House bill that makes its effective date contingent on his medical marijuana legislation becoming law—has ruffled some feathers in the opposite chamber.

“Any tactics that are perceived as heavy-handed, trying to force it, tend to have the opposite effect,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R) told WNCN-TV.

“I’ve made it very clear if this bill were to come to the floor, I would support the medicinal use of cannabis. I think it has the right safeguards and protections, so I’m fine with it,” he said. “But, I’m not twisting my members’ arms to vote for it.”

Another GOP lawmaker who previously supported the reform now says he’s a firm “no” because of the Senate’s stunt, which he described as “pompous” and “self-centered.”

Rabon doesn’t seem especially concerned, however. While Moore says that he will not bring the cannabis legislation to the floor without majority support from the House GOP caucus, Rabon says that he hopes “some folks will kind of look up and pay attention now” after the Senate passed the other chamber’s unrelated nursing regulations bill with his medical marijuana amendment attached.

“We have work to be done. We don’t need to stonewall,” he said. “They’re both healthcare bills, and I think they both should be passed this session.”

Rabon didn’t rule out taking the same action on other House bills to force consideration of the cannabis measure, which passed the Senate as a standalone back in March and received an initial hearing in the House Health Committee last month.

Still, the amendment tactic hasn’t played well with everyone. Rep. Mike Clampitt (R) told The News & Observer that he was “appalled” by the maneuver.

“It’s been very divisive in the House, and has been a very contentious topic,” Clampitt said of the overall medical marijuana bill. “And then for the Senate to minimize all of that, and to make a joke out of it, it’s very embarrassing to me for our General Assembly.”

“They want to play games, I think that’s very unfortunate for the citizens of North Carolina,” he said. “It doesn’t do anyone any good.”

Rabon’s bill would allow patients with qualifying conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and multiple sclerosis to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries.

It would also establish a Compassionate Use Advisory Board and Medical Cannabis Production Commission to oversee the rollout of the program. And to that end, while the fate of the main bill remains in flux, the Senate passed a separate appointments measure this week that names a member to the Medical Cannabis Production Commission, effective upon enactment of the legalization legislation.

The House speaker previously said that he felt the chances of passage for the medical cannabis bill were “better” than ever before, despite his latest remarks casting doubt on the prospects of bringing it to the floor this year.

Moore had said that the dynamics around marijuana reform have changed, with “a lot of new members.” He said that more than 50 percent of his chamber now supports medical cannabis and he would “not be surprised at all if that bill moved.”

At last month’s House committee hearing, Rabon shared candid personal details about his own experience surviving cancer and using cannabis for treatment. He said that his doctor advised him to use marijuana before he went through serious chemotherapy, and he visited his local law enforcement to tell them that he intended to break the law to use the plant for therapy. Packages of marijuana then regularly showed up in the mail.

Here are the key provisions of the medical cannabis legislation, SB 3:

Patients would be allowed to access cannabis if they have a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Smoking and vaping would also be allowed, but doctors would need to prescribe a specific method of delivery and dosages for patients under the revised legislation. And they would need to reevaluate patients’ eligibility for the program at least once a year.

The bill provides for up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers who control the cultivation and sale of cannabis. Each supplier can operate up to eight dispensaries. That’s double the dispensary cap laid out in the earlier version.

Under the bill, a Compassionate Use Advisory Board would be established, and it could add new qualifying medical conditions.

Separately, a Medical Cannabis Production Commission would be created to ensure that there’s an adequate supply of cannabis for patients, oversee licensing and generate enough revenue to regulate the program.

The measure would further create a North Carolina Cannabis Research Program to “undertake objective, scientific research regarding the administration of cannabis or cannabis-infused products as part of medical treatment.”

There don’t appear to be specific equity provisions that many advocates push for as part of legalization legislation.

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A findings section in the bill states that it’s the intent of the legislature “prioritize the protection of public health and safety in the creation of a system for the cultivation, processing, and selling of medical cannabis.”

Further, “the General Assembly that the regulatory system created by this Article be nimble and able to respond quickly to changes in the rapidly-evolving cannabis industry.”

A poll released in February found that North Carolinians are also ready for the reform, with about three in four voters saying they back medical cannabis legalization.

For his part, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said in December that he thinks a medical marijuana legalization bill “has an opportunity to pass” this session, and he also reiterated his support for broader decriminalization of cannabis possession, noting racial disparities in enforcement.

Cooper’s public support for decriminalization is a relatively recent development. He first openly backed the policy change in October, saying that it’s time to “end the stigma,” while separately announcing steps he’s taken to explore his options for independently granting relief to people with existing convictions.

Following President Joe Biden’s mass pardon announcement in October, which also involved a call to action for governors to provide state-level relief, Cooper said that he’s directed state attorneys to review pardon authority for marijuana offenses.

The governor separately convened a North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice that previously recommended decriminalizing marijuana. The report from the panel, which is chaired by state Attorney General Josh Stein (D), also included a recommendation for the state to initiate a study on whether to more broadly legalize cannabis sales.

Under current law, possessing more than half an ounce up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis is a class 1 misdemeanor, subject to up to 45 days imprisonment and a $200 fine. In 2019, there were 3,422 such charges and 1,909 convictions, with 70 percent of those convicted being nonwhite.

Meanwhile, a North Carolina House committee approved a bill last month to create a $5 million grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA and to create a Breakthrough Therapies Research Advisory Board to oversee the effort.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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