North Carolina Senators Discuss Medical Marijuana Bill, As House Leader Signals New Pathway To Passage In His Chamber
Published February 15, 2023
By Kyle Jaeger
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A North Carolina Senate committee discussed a bill to legalize medical marijuana on Wednesday—and a top House lawmaker is giving new signs that his chamber is positioned to enact the reform after blocking similar legislation last year.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill from Sen. Bill Rabon (R), with some discussion on proposed amendments. If the proposal clears the panel at a subsequent meeting, it will have two more committee stops before potentially heading to the floor.
The measure 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.
During the committee hearing, Rabon emphasized the simplicity of the legislation, and he said he’s hopeful that this will be the last time he’ll have to push for the reform.
The sponsor stressed that the legislation was drafted to ensure that the medical cannabis program would be “tightly controlled” while maintaining penalties for non-medical use of marijuana.
“You have to start somewhere,” he said, adding that lawmakers can “learn as we go and grow as we learn” if the law needs additional revisions down the line.
Advocates are confident that the bill will make it through the Senate, as the prior version did during the past session. What’s been less certain is how the GOP-controlled House will approach the issue.
But in an interview with Spectrum News 1’s “Tying It Together” podcast that was released on Wednesday, House Speaker Tim Moore (R) indicated that he feels the chamber’s new political makeup may give the legislation a pathway for passage.
“I think there’s been a change. We have a lot of new members,” he said, adding that he believes more than 50 percent of lawmakers now back medical cannabis reform. “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.”
“But the devil is in the details. This can’t just be wide open recreational use,” he added. “There needs to be a true medical reason for it. There has to be prescription, supervision, all that kind of stuff. It can’t just be a reckless way to expand recreational drug use. So I think something will happen along those lines.”
That’s a significant change in tone for the speaker, who previously remarked that there were “a lot of concerns” with Rabon’s bill.
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) said in an interview with the same podcast last month that the legislation his chamber advanced last session was “well-constructed” and “addressed a lot of the concerns that people have” while providing a needed treatment option for patients with serious illnesses.
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.