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NC Medical Cannabis Bill Has A Chance Of Passing; Activists Say It’s Too Restrictive

Source: News & Observer

A North Carolina Senate bill that would allow cannabis to become legal for medical use had its first public hearing in front of the state’s newest lawmakers earlier this month, according to The News & Observer.

Senate Bill 3, known as the Compassionate Care Act, would legalize medical cannabis for people who have certain specific health conditions, including cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Those with chronic pain would not be able to obtain a prescription and recreational use would not be allowed.

The bill would also create an advisory board with 11 members who would review new medical conditions to determine if they can be added to the list of covered conditions.

Democratic Sen. Paul Lowe and Republican Sens. Bill Rabon and Michael Lee are the primary sponsors of the bill and told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bill would help North Carolinians while still protecting public safety through a variety of regulations.

The intent of the bill, Rabon said, “is to only make changes to existing state law that are necessary to protect patients and their doctors from criminal civil penalties, and would not intend to change current civil and criminal laws governing the use of marijuana for non-medical purposes.”

Senate Bill 3 has some strict rules and costly fees associated dealing with applying for a license to sell cannabis:

  • Applicants for a license need to have been North Carolina residents for at least two years.
  • Applicants must be the majority owner of each medical cannabis center and production facility under their operation.
  • First-year suppliers must pay a $50,000 nonrefundable license fee and $5,000 for each facility.
  • To renew a license, suppliers must pay at least $10,000 plus an additional $500 for every new production facility and $100 for each existing one.

Wake County Democratic Sen. Lisa Grafstein said she was concerned about the licensing fee, which requires a “pretty substantial investment. And so presumably it’s going to be some national organizations that have to be involved in some of this work.”

“I’m wondering as we look forward into the future, potentially for there to be more licenses, whether there’s a potential to have an easier or a more viable path for local farmers and local producers to be involved in their local community so that we can make sure that North Carolina businesses are benefiting as well,” Grafstein said.

Rabon told Grafstein and the committee that this was “going to be a very expensive process for anyone to get into, very expensive.” Rabon reasoned that those who want to get a license should be sure they’re committed to the business. “We don’t want to put an idea out there, ‘oh, this is something that I can do part-time,’” he said.

Grafstein also said she was interested in making sure that profits from the business stayed in-state.

Lee said that “a person has to have skin in the game. They’re here, they live here. They love North Carolina.” 

He said much would come down to the arrangements that these local individuals make with private parties, who may be national. 

“Hopefully, we’ll have the negotiating ability to kind of work through that and make sure that a lot of that funding stays here,” Lee said.

Last year’s medical cannabis bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support before dying in the House. 

Some speakers at the committee hearing expressed their concerns over the bill and medical cannabis in general. Those who took issue with the legislation were who you would expect – socially conservative lawmakers, the North Carolina Family Policy Council and the Christian Action League of North Carolina.

Activists who spoke at the hearing also took issue with the bill, but for a different reason – it doesn’t go far enough.

Chris Suttle spoke and said that how the bill is currently written would prevent him from medicinal marijuana use, “nor would I have qualified six years ago when I had my brain tumor scare, so I had to become a criminal in the state I love to be here today with a clean bill of health and a passion inside me.”

Suttle also asked legislators to stop using the term “chronic pain” and to instead use the term “opioid reduction therapy.”

“If you do not want to continue taking opioids, then you should be allowed to have medicinal cannabis be one of the solutions that you can look at with your physician,” he said.

Under SB 3, in order to legally buy medical marijuana, people would need to get a registry identification card from a doctor. Should it be requested, patients would need to show the card to law enforcement. In addition, the state Department of Health and Human Services will start “a secure, confidential, electronic database containing information about qualified patients, designated caregivers and physicians.”

According to the bill, no sales tax would be added to the purchase of cannabis products sold by medical cannabis centers.

The bill has a good chance of passing the Senate. If it does, it would be sent to the House where it failed last year and this year’s prospects are questionable.

House Speaker Tim Moore said in January that there was “some support” for a medical marijuana bill if doctors were involved and tight controls were included.

“We have polled our caucus,” he said then. “We still have a few members that need to respond to those polls. So what I would say is that there’s some support and we’ll see. I’d say that there’s a chance it may happen.”

A February poll conducted by Meredith College found massive support for a medical marijuana program in North Carolina with 73% of all voters saying they support it.

Every political affiliation strongly supported the idea, including 91% of Democrats, 77% of unaffiliated voters and 64% of Republicans.

When broken down by race, white respondents showed the greatest support at 75%, followed by Black or African American voters at 73%, Hispanic or Latino voters at 71%, voters identifying as “other” at 70%, and Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander voters with 61% support.

Marijuana legalization is one of the few issues that a large majority of North Carolinians actually agree on, and yet it’s 2023 and we still don’t have a medical marijuana program. North Carolina is in the minority.

Only 13 states in the U.S., including North Carolina, do not have a medical cannabis program. South Dakota and Alabama both have programs, but they are not in operation yet.

Recreational cannabis is legal in 21 states and D.C. and should be the end goal of any movement to legalize marijuana here in North Carolina. Full legalization is the right path to take, but any sort of legalization is a good first step in North Carolina.

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