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Top North Carolina GOP Senator Notes Strong Medical Marijuana Support As Reform Bills Are Filed



Public opinion is shifting in favor of marijuana reform, a top GOP North Carolina senator acknowledges, and that could open up opportunities for several recently introduced bills to advance this session.

While advocates are doubtful that the conservative state will advance broad adult-use legalization measures being carried by Democrats this year, there is some optimism about the prospects of separate medical cannabis reform legislation that’s sponsored by the Republican chair of the Senate Rules Committee, for example.

To that end, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) recently acknowledged that the tides are shifting when it comes to marijuana in North Carolina, and he said that sponsor, Chairman Bill Rabon, “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. “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.”

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.

Rabon’s bipartisan medical cannabis legalization bill could be the vehicle to advance that more modest reform. While it has not seen legislative action since being filed earlier this month, the legislation was referred to his committee and advocates see potential to advance.

Patients would qualify for medical marijuana under the proposal if they have a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or any other ailment for which a physician recommends the treatment option. The legislation would prohibit smokable cannabis products, however.

But the bill is not the only proposal seeking to reform the state’s marijuana laws that could see action this session.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Among others, a separate medical cannabis bill, adult-use marijuana legalization measures and several pieces of cannabis decriminalization legislation have been introduced in recent weeks—though they do not currently have bipartisan cosponsorships and would likely face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled legislature.

Pressure to end criminalization are building regionally, however. Neighboring Virginia became the first state in the south to legalize marijuana for recreational use this month, for example, and a bill to expand South Carolina’s limited existing medical cannabis program cleared a key committee vote last month.

“Now that Virginia has legalized cannabis for both medical and nonmedical use, it is becoming increasingly difficult for North Carolina residents to understand why their state’s cannabis policies remain stuck in the 20th Century,” Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s encouraging to see that some state lawmakers are working to move the state forward on this important issue.”

A task force convened by 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.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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