Nearly three in four North Carolina voters—including bipartisan majorities—say they support a proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, according to a new poll.
The survey from Meredith College found that 73 percent of North Carolinians back the medical cannabis legislation, compared to 15 percent who said they were opposed and 12 percent who were undecided.
There was majority support across political affiliations, including 91 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of those who identified as unaffiliated.
Here’s the text of the survey question that was posed to voters:
“North Carolina is considering a law to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana (medical marijuana) for the treatment of certain diseases and conditions. Do you support a law allowing the use of marijuana in North Carolina for medical reasons?”
The poll involved interviews with 973 North Carolina voters from February 3-7, with a three percentage point margin of error. The results were released about a month after a Republican state lawmaker refiled a medical cannabis legalization bill.
The legislation from Senate Rules and Operations Committee Chairman Bill Rabon (R) 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.
An earlier version of the reform bill cleared the Senate last year, but House Republicans blocked it from advancing further.
“There may be enough new members in the legislature to get the legalization of medical marijuana across the finish line in 2023,” Meredith Poll Director David McLennan said in a press release. “It appeared like a few, older members of the legislature had blocked medical marijuana legalization in the past.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) said recently that the legislation his chamber advanced last year was “well-constructed” and “addressed a lot of the concerns that people have” while providing a needed treatment option for patients with serious illnesses.
He said “we’ll see whether or not this session is the right time,” particularly as it concerns how the GOP-controlled House approaches it, but “I think it’s the right thing for us to do.”
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 last year.
Here are the key provisions of the senator’s refiled medical cannabis legislation:
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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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.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.