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North Carolina Senate Passes Bill To Legalize Medical Marijuana, But House Speaker Says It Needs Majority GOP Support For Floor Vote There



The North Carolina Senate has approved a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, though its prospects of passage remain uncertain in the House, where the reform has consistently stalled due to a lack of majority support within the Republican caucus.

Bipartisan senators agreed last week to attach the medical cannabis proposal to a hemp- and kratom-related measure, advancing it through committee and on the floor for an initial vote. It passed on third reading in a 36-10 vote on Monday, sending it to the opposite chamber.

There hasn’t been a clear indication of what the House might do with it. Speaker Tim Moore (R) reiterated in an interview that was released on Sunday that he personally supports legalizing medical marijuana, but he added that the informal rule in his chamber is that at least 37 GOP members must back any given bill in order for him to bring it to the floor—without saying whether the legislation at hand has reached that threshold this time around.

By tying medical marijuana to the broader hemp and kratom bill that originated in the House, the Senate is exercising a unique legislative maneuver to try and get the job done.

As revised with last week’s committee amendment from Sen. Michael Lazzara (R), the bill would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients with certain qualifying conditions. That’s in addition to the original provisions on restricting kratom and intoxicating hemp cannabinoid products such as delta-8 THC.

The cannabis text is similar to that of a standalone bill from Sen. Bill Rabon (R), a cancer survivor who has sponsored multiple medical marijuana proposals. The senator previously described his interest in using the hemp legislation as a potential vehicle after his latest standalone stalled in the House.

The senator has emphasized that he’s speaking from personal experience when he discusses his support for the legislation. As he’s previously disclosed, Rabon said 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, and he’d take “three puffs” of cannabis after work to treat his symptoms.

While Moore, the House speaker, told WCNC that, “personally I support medical cannabis,” he didn’t say whether there was enough support among his Republican colleagues to bring it to a floor vote at this stage.

“I think it ought to be something that’s properly supervised—properly regimented—and, as a type of care, that it should be an option for those folks who want to do that,” he said. “I do oppose, by the way, recreational use. I think that opens the door to a lot of problems, and I oppose that.”

“In terms of the medical cannabis, what we did was we took a poll of our caucus last year, and when we polled it, there were not the necessary 37 votes for it in the House,” the speaker said. “The reason I say 37 is our rule is that, for any bill to pass, it has to receive a majority of the members of the Republican caucus willing to vote for it on the floor. So the day I’m informed that there are 37 yes votes for that on the floor, it can certainly come to the floor at that point for a vote.”

Moore previously downplayed the idea of enacting medical cannabis legislation, saying at one point that “there are a lot of concerns” with Rabon’s bill that moved through the Senate.

Prior to approving the bill on Monday, senators adopted several amendments.

One says that “if marijuana is rescheduled or deleted as a controlled substance under federal law, marijuana shall not be rescheduled or deleted” under state law “unless the General Assembly enacts legislation.”

Other approved amendments to the consumable hemp portions of the legislation further clarify provisions on serving sizes for liquid products, the process for verifying customers are of legal age and restricting marketing materials that appeal to people under the age of 21.

Here are the main components of the medical cannabis provisions of the bill: 

  • 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.
  • 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.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) said in April that he’s had bicameral discussions about the prospect of moving the medical marijuana proposal from Rabon forward as part of the hemp measure.

Rabon’s standalone legislation moved through the Senate and was taken up by a House committee last year, but it has not advanced further in that chamber.

Certain Democratic senators, such as Sen. Graig Meyer (D), have said that any future proposal would need to include “some type of decriminalization language,” in addition to the limited medical cannabis program. So it’s unclear whether the Democratic caucus would back the amended hemp bill as it’s currently drafted, as it calls for a relatively conservative medical cannabis authorization.

House Majority Leader John Bell (R) said last year that while there were “still discussions going on” about the medical marijuana bill, he was “very sure you won’t see that bill move” due to insufficient support among Republicans. He said that was “unfortunately” the case.

A previous version of the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act from Rabon passed the Senate but did not get a vote in the House of Representatives in 2022.

The Senate president previously acknowledged that opinions are shifting when it comes to marijuana in the state, and he said that Rabon specifically “for a long time has looked at the issue.”

Rabon also took another step, including medical marijuana regulatory appointments for the yet-to-be-enacted program in a separate measure that passed the Senate in March.

An Indian tribe in North Carolina launched the state’s first medical marijuana dispensary in April—despite the protests of certain Republican congressional lawmakers.

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Ted Budd (R-NC) have also asked federal, state and local officials what steps they were taking to enforce marijuana prohibition ahead of the tribe’s April 20 launch.

Meanwhile in North Carolina, a state judge declared in February that anyone who “has the odor of marijuana” will be barred from entering the North Carolina Superior Courts of Robeson County.

The order, from Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James Gregory Bell, said that smelling like cannabis is grounds for removal from the courthouse, and the sheriff will be directed to “ask you to leave and come back without the odor owns [sic] your persons.”

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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