This past week saw the first procedural vote in favor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina, which means it is now one step away from being sent to the House. This comes after a top lawmaker in that chamber stated that his chamber is well-positioned to pass the reform this session despite opposing a similar bill last year.
A week or so after easily passing through three committees, the proposal from Sen. Bill Rabon (R) was approved on its second reading in the Senate by a vote of 36-10. In the upcoming days, the passage is anticipated to be read a third time, which will formally send it to the other chamber of the legislature.
According to the proposed law, people with qualifying illnesses like epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would be able to possess and buy cannabis from authorized dispensaries.
PROGRESS OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION IN NORTH CAROLINA
Before the vote, Rabon stated on the floor that the bill "is not intended to change existing civil and criminal laws governing the use of cannabis for non-medical purposes" and that it "is only intended to make amendments to current North Carolina laws that are essential for protecting patients and their doctors from both civil and criminal penalties."
It would "enable for closely restricted use of medical marijuana solely by people with serious conditions," the speaker claimed. Law enforcement will have access to a variety of records and databases needed to confirm that patients are eligible and that suppliers are adhering to the bill's terms. "We have received significant input from law enforcement on the bill," he added.
Like with the previous version during the previous session, supporters are sure that the proposal will pass the Senate. How the Republican-controlled House will handle the situation has been less certain.
But, House Speaker Tim Moore (R) stated in a recent podcast interview that he believes the proposal may have a chance of passing given the chamber's new political makeup.
I believe something has changed. We have a lot of new members," he added, saying that in his opinion, more than half of parliamentarians now support legalizing medical marijuana. "If that bill were to pass, I wouldn't be at all shocked. The likelihood of something occurring on that, in my opinion, is more than zero.
The speaker's tone has significantly changed from when he said there were "a lot of worries" with Rabon's measure.
The legislation that the Senate advanced during the previous session was "well-constructed" and "addressed a lot of the concerns that people have," according to Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R), who said this in an interview with the same podcast. It also gave patients with serious illnesses a much-needed treatment option.
PROVISIONS OF THE PROPOSED LAW
The following are the main provisions of SB 3, the law governing medical cannabis:
Individuals with "debilitating medical conditions" such as HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, and Parkinson's disease, would be permitted access to cannabis.
Smoking and vaping would still be permitted, but doctors would still have to give their patients specific instructions for delivery and dosing. Also, they would have to reassess the program's eligibility for patients at least once a year.
The proposed law would allow up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers to oversee the production and distribution of cannabis. Eight dispensaries can be run by each supplier. That is twice the dispensary cap that was specified in the previous iteration.
The proposed legislation would create a Compassionate Use Advisory Board, which would have the authority to include new qualifying medical conditions.
A separate Medical Marijuana Production Commission would be established to monitor licenses, guarantee a sufficient supply of cannabis for patients, and provide enough money to manage the program.
A North Carolina Cannabis Research Program would also be established as part of the legislation to "undertake objective, scientific study into the administration of cannabis or cannabis-infused products as part of medical therapy."
The precise equity clauses that many proponents call for in legalization legislation don't seem to exist.
The legislature intends to "prioritize the preservation of public health and safety in the construction of a system for the growing, processing, and sale of medical cannabis," according to a findings section in the law.
SUPPORT FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION IN NORTH CAROLINA
According to a survey conducted last month, around three out of four North Carolinians support the legalization of medical marijuana, indicating that they are also ready for the change.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D), for his part, stated in December that he believes a medical marijuana legalization measure "has an opportunity to pass" this year. He also reaffirmed his support for a more comprehensive decriminalization of cannabis possession, pointing out racial inequities in enforcement.
Cooper's recent public endorsement of decriminalization is a recent development. He initially publicly endorsed the policy change in October, declaring that it is time to "remove the stigma" and revealing separate actions he had taken to investigate his options for independently releasing those who had already been convicted.
Cooper stated that he has instructed state attorneys to investigate the pardon authority for marijuana charges following President Joseph Biden's mass pardon statement in October, which also included a call to action for governors to grant state-level relief.
Meanwhile, the governor called a meeting of the North Carolina Task Group for Racial Equality in Criminal Justice, which had already advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana. A suggestion for the state to start a study on whether to generally legalize cannabis sales was also included in the panel's final report, which was presided over by the state's AG Josh Stein (D).
Possession of more than half an ounce and up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis is currently a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a $200 fine. 3,422 similar charges and 1,909 prosecutions occurred in 2019; non-White people made up 70% of those who were found guilty.
North Carolina Sen. Bill Rabon's bill, which permits persons with certain diseases to own and purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries, was adopted by the North Carolina Senate. The plan is anticipated to be read a third time before being forwarded to the House, where the outcome is less definite, although there is optimism about its chances given the chamber's new political makeup and the support demonstrated in a recent survey.