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North Carolina Poised To Pass Medical Marijuana Bill

The measure, approved by the NC Senate this week, could be ratified by the House before this year's legislative session ends.

As more and more states begin to enjoy the economic, health and wellness benefits of establishing medical and recreational cannabis programs, longtime anti-marijuana havens like North Carolina have apparently seen the "light." Numerous local and national media outlets reported that the North Carolina Senate passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state this past Wednesday.


After sailing through three committee hearings, the measure passed with a 36-10 vote on the Senate floor. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon (R), is a cancer survivor and is credited by many in the Senate chamber with galvanizing solid bipartisan support for the groundbreaking legislation.


Senate leader Phil Berger was particularly impressed by his fellow Senator's passion and perseverance in ratifying the bill. Berger said, "A lot of it was his personal story. That carried a lot of people."


"A lot of it was his personal story. That carried a lot of people."

- NC State Senate Leader Phil Berger


The legislation would enable patients with qualifying conditions like cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS) to purchase and possess marijuana from a licensed dispensary. However, to the disappointment of many healthcare and mental health activists, debilitating ailments such as glaucoma, chronic pain and medical issues related to opioid addiction did not make the list.


In order to get buy-in from some of his more conservative colleagues, Sen. Rabon explicitly crafted the bill to be the strictest medical marijuana legislation in the country. As he describes it, "The purpose of the bill is to allow for tightly regulated use of medical cannabis, only by those with debilitating illnesses… The recreational sale or use of marijuana remains, under this legislation, illegal."


"The purpose of the bill is to allow for tightly regulated use of medical cannabis, only by those with debilitating illnesses… The recreational sale or use of marijuana remains, under this legislation, illegal."

- NC State Sen. Bill Rabon (R)


A notoriously and historically conservative state, North Carolina is one of the few remaining states without at least a medical marijuana program. However, with this week's result, many lawmakers and cannabis advocates are highly optimistic about the bill's chances of becoming law.


Furthermore, it appears that most North Carolina voters are ready to embrace the potential health and financial benefits of cannabis as well. In a survey conducted last month, researchers at Meredith College found that 73% of North Carolinians support a medical marijuana program, with only 15% opposed and 12% undecided.


All that remains is for the House to vote on the legislation. If it passes there, the only remaining barrier would be North Carolina Governor Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who has already gone on the record to support broader decriminalization of marijuana. For his part, House Speaker Tim Moore (R) is confident his chamber's new political makeup will create a path toward approving the bill and sending it to Cooper's desk for his executive signature.


In a recent interview, he said, "I think there's been a change. We have a lot of new members. I would not be surprised at all if that bill moved. I think the odds are more likely than not that something will happen on that."


"I think there's been a change. We have a lot of new members. I would not be surprised at all if that bill moved. I think the odds are more likely than not that something will happen on that."

- NC State House Speaker Tim Moore (R)


Additional key provisions under the legislation include:

  • Smoking and vaping of cannabis products would be allowed under specific prescribed methods by doctors.

  • Patient eligibility would be reevaluated on an annual basis.

  • The measure allows up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers to control the cultivation and sale of cannabis, with each supplier allowed to operate a maximum of eight dispensaries.

  • Establishment of a Compassionate Use Advisory Board to enable the addition of future qualifying conditions.

  • Creation of a Medical Cannabis Production Commission to ensure adequate marijuana supplies for patients, licensing oversight and revenue generation necessary to regulate the program.

One notably glaring omission from the bill is the lack of specific social equity provisions that many advocates push for as part of any cannabis legalization effort. As with most reform initiatives surrounding the polarizing cannabis sativa plant, the measure is far from perfect. However, the adage "never let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'" seems to be most applicable to the case of North Carolina's medical marijuana program.


Change, particularly the seismic kind brought about by the cultural, economic and legal shifts created by marijuana in the past decade, is always incremental and a little messy. But, hopefully, the new kind of leader taking hold in the Tarheel State will take the citizens of North Carolina off "Tobacco Road" and onto "Marijuana Way" in the coming years.


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