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Top GOP North Carolina Senator Says Medical Marijuana Bill Could Be Merged With Hemp Regulations Measure As Compromise



There may be a path forward for a North Carolina medical marijuana legalization bill to be enacted into law this session if it’s combined with legislation to regulate intoxicating hemp products, the state Senate’s top Republican says. But a Democratic senator also said the bill is going to need broader provisions decriminalizing cannabis possession if it’s going to maintain his support.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) said he’s had bicameral discussions about the prospect of moving the measure from Sen. Bill Rabon (R) this year with a House bill that would require a license to sell hemp-derived cannabinoids such as CBD, while imposing zoning restrictions for those businesses.

“We’d like to deal with not just CBD but medical marijuana,” the senator told CBS 17. “And maybe there’s a way we can work something out on that.”

After clearing the Senate last year, Rabon’s bill moved through a House committee but has not yet advanced to the floor. There are hopes it could be revived as a part of a compromise package—but it’s not clear what form it might ultimately take.

While Democrats are more broadly in favor of the reform, Sen. Graig Meyer (D) said any future proposal would need to include “some type of decriminalization language,” in addition to the limited medical cannabis program.

“It has to include a way for North Carolinians to be part of the industry,” he said. “And it has to be clear that the money that’s made from it can be reinvested into neighborhoods and communities that have been hurt most by drugs.”

“I want to change the dialogue about cannabis legalization,” Meyer said. “I want to make it clear that I think the majority of people understand that it’s time for us to legalize it, regulate it, grow it, tax it and to take the benefits from it and reinvest it in our communities.”

However, while Meyer said he’d like to see a “good bipartisan negotiation to get to place that everyone can agree and then put it up for a vote,” he added that he doesn’t believe that’s “very likely,” which is why “Democrats should campaign on this” in the lead-up to the November election.

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.

He predicted that the bill would be taken back up during this year’s legislative session.

A survey of North Carolinians, conducted by the Meredith Poll and published in February, found 78 percent support for lawmakers to pass a medical marijuana bill this year.

The current bicameral talks come weeks after a House committee formally recommended that the state regulate the sale of hemp-derived cannabinoid products. Rep. Wayne Sasser (R) said “we’ve got to find a way to stop” sales by unlicensed operators.

Rep. Stephen Ross (R), chair of the committee that made the recommendation, said the issue of whether hemp regulatory legislation could be merged with medical cannabis legalization is a “really a tough question to answer because that’s an ongoing debate.”

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.”

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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 last month. But it appears those appointments will be moot this year.

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

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Ted Budd (R-NC) recently 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 recently declared 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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