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North Carolina Senators Attach Medical Marijuana Legalization Amendment To Hemp Bill



Republican North Carolina senators are taking a new approach to advancing medical marijuana legalization in the state—successfully fighting to attach an amendment enact the reform to a hemp- and kratom-focused bill that cleared a Senate committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved the legislation to regulate intoxicating hemp cannabinoid products such as delta-8 THC. But prior to its passage, members adopted an amendment from Sen. Michael Lazzara (R) containing language that would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients with certain qualifying conditions.

The text is similar to that of a standalone bill from Sen. Bill Rabon (R), a cancer survivor who has sponsored multiple medical cannabis proposals.

Rabon, who has become known for leveraging different legislative tactics to force the issue, previously described his interest in using the hemp legislation as a potential vehicle after his latest standalone stalled in the House.

The senator told the committee on Wednesday that it makes sense to use the intoxicating hemp bill as a vehicle to legalize and regulate medical cannabis given that the crops are the same species and have the same components, albeit legally defined differently.

“That’s not too hard for folks in this room to figure out,” he said. “It’s just a matter of one coming from the quote-unquote the hemp plant, the other coming from quote-unquote the bad M-word, the marijuana plant, both of which have the same genus and the same species being cannabis sativa. So it doesn’t take really smart people to see that they are the same thing.”

Under the approved amendment, 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.

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, as well as a House committee, last year, but it has not advanced further.

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.”

House Speaker Tim Moore (R) is among key lawmakers who have 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.

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.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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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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