A North Carolina Senate committee on Wednesday took action on a bill to legalize medical marijuana, amending it and setting the stage for approval by the panel at a future meeting.
A substitute version of the legislation, sponsored by Rules Committee Chairman Bill Rabon (R), was adopted in a voice vote by the Judiciary Committee.
Under the proposal, patients would qualify for medical marijuana under the proposal if they have a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis. Regulators would have authority to add additional qualifying conditions.
Rabon, who is himself a cancer survivor, said in an opening statement that “there’s nothing less compassionate on this Earth than to watch a person you love suffering when there’s something that can ameliorate at least that suffering.”
“I know how rough it is to go through chemo. I know how bad it is to wake up every day and think that it may be your last day on Earth,” he said. “It’s a personal thing with me. I don’t see the stigma that some people do.”
“I think it is time to bring this forward,” he continued. “I’m going to see it through as best I can. I owe it to my fellow man.”
Under a substitute amendment adopted by the committee, a 13-member Medical Cannabis Advisory Board would be able to “review petitions to add a new debilitating medical condition and have the power to add a new debilitating medical condition,” according to a summary.
The time has come for medical marijuana in North Carolina.
It’s a historic day at the North Carolina General Assembly. In the judiciary committee we’re debating Senate Bill 711 (NC Compassionate Care Act) to allow for strict medical marijuana. pic.twitter.com/eAI8nmXkgI
— Senator Wiley Nickel (@wileynickel) June 23, 2021
Separately, a nine-member Medical Cannabis Production Commission would be established to “provide a safe, regulated supply of cannabis appropriate for medical use by qualified registry identification cardholders; ensure statewide access to safe and affordable cannabis to registry identification cardholders; establish a system that is well regulated, includes a seed to sale tracking system, and is financially viable for suppliers to ensure the highest quality cannabis and cannabis infused products for patients; and generate sufficient revenue for the Commission to oversee and for the Department to maintain and operate the system.”
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The measure would further create a North Carolina Cannabis Research Program “to conduct objective, scientific research regarding the administration of cannabis or cannabis-infused products as part of medical treatment.”
Because the panel accepted the substitute, there couldn’t be a vote on the full proposal at the same meeting under Senate rules. If ultimately approved by Judiciary, it must also still move through at least three more panels before reaching the floor and then potentially heading to the House of Representatives.
The bill has also been referred to the Senate Finance, Health Care and Rules and Operations Committees.
A majority of North Carolina adults support legalizing marijuana for recreational use—and three in four say it should be legal for medical purposes—according to a poll released in February.
Packed committee room today with speakers supporting medical marijuana. (Some opposed too, unfortunately.) I hope we can quit making caretakers, veterans and cancer patients criminals when they are desperate for help for their medical conditions. #ncpol https://t.co/h2AqQ8kUiq pic.twitter.com/kQ79vTVuo8
— Senator Natasha Marcus (@NatashaMarcusNC) June 23, 2021
It’s possible that the legislature could see additional action on a variety of cannabis-related bills this year.
A separate medical cannabis bill, adult-use marijuana legalization measures and several pieces of cannabis decriminalization legislation have also been introduced in recent months—though they do not currently have bipartisan cosponsorships and would likely face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled legislature.
While advocates have their doubts about broad reform being enacted in North Carolina this session, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) recently 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.”
“I do sense that public opinion is changing on marijuana—both medical and recreational,” Rabon said previously. “I don’t know where the members of the General Assembly are at this time in terms of support for the bill, but it’s something we’ll look at and we’ll see how things move along.”
Bill sponsors going to great lengths to discuss how this bill is designed for medical cannabis only, clearly an attempt to assuage concerns from members of their party.
Bill isn’t based on the approach of any other state – it’s a more tightly regulated approach.
— Sen. Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC) June 23, 2021
Now hearing from former Marines about how medical cannabis can be preferable to the “combat cocktail” of prescription medicine that the VA often uses for PTSD. Really powerful testimony about suicide prevention.
— Sen. Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC) June 23, 2021
Pressure to end criminalization is also building regionally.
Neighboring Virginia became the first state in the south to legalize marijuana for recreational use in April, for example. And the sponsor of a South Carolina medical cannabis legalization bill said he’s received assurances from a top Senate leader that his measure will be taken up as the first order of business at the beginning of next year.
A task force convened by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) backed decriminalization as part of a series of policy recommendations on racial equity that were released late last year. The group also said prior cannabis convictions should be expunged and the state should consider whether to more broadly legalize marijuana.
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.
Read the North Carolina medical marijuana legalization bill as amended by the committee below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.