A bill to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina is likely dead for the session, the top Republican House lawmaker says.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said on Tuesday he will not break an internal rule that requires bills to have support from the majority of the Republican caucus in order to bring them to the floor. And while some GOP members back the cannabis bill, it doesn’t appear it will get that required majority this round.
Doing so “would require a number of House members who’ve taken a position of ‘no’ to literally switch their position to want to vote for it, and I just don’t see that happening,” Moore told reporters.
“As long as there’s not a majority of the Republicans willing to vote for it, it won’t come up,” he said, even though he’d personally vote in favor of it.
House Majority Leader John Bell (R) shares that perspective. He separately said on Monday that while there are “still discussions going on” about the medical marijuana bill, he’s “very sure you won’t see that bill move this session” due to insufficient support among Republicans. He said that was “unfortunately” the case.
“It’s a policy change—a major policy change here in the state—and there’s passion on both sides,” Bell said. “We have members of our caucus that are 100 percent supportive of it and we have other members that are 100 percent against it.”
He predicted that the bill—which did receive a hearing in the House Health Committee in May—will be taken back up during next year’s legislative session.
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon (R), has been leading this fight for years, and he employed new tactics this round to try and pressure the opposite chamber to act on the reform.
As the bill stalled after passing the Senate in March, he successfully attached an amendment to an unrelated House measure that made its effective date contingent on the enactment of medical cannabis legalization. Rabon didn’t rule out taking the same action on other House bills to force consideration of the cannabis measure.
But the House speaker said that the maneuver was never going to work, and this “was going to be the outcome either way.”
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 last month. But it appears those appointments will be moot this year.
Meanwhile, Sen. Julie Mayfield (D), one of the seven Democratic sponsors of the bill, told ABC 13 that it is “long past time for North Carolina to legalize the medical use of cannabis.”
“It has helped many, many people, and it is time to allow people who need it to acquire and use it with dignity and without fear,” she said. “The bill would pass with overwhelming support from Democrats if only Speaker Moore would let it come to a vote. It’s time to let democracy work.”
As written, the 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.
The House speaker previously said that he felt the chances of passage for the medical cannabis bill were “better” than ever before, despite his more recent 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 May’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 in June 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.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.