A bill that could legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina is taking a long, winding road through the state Senate, but the bill’s Republican sponsors have managed to get it successfully through several committees.
Medical marijuana is legal in 37 states, but North Carolina has long resisted any form of legal weed. Legislators have tried several times in past sessions to approve medical cannabis in the state, but those efforts failed.
Longtime Republican Sen. Bill Rabon, primary sponsor on the bill, has said North Carolina’s medical marijuana law would be the strictest in the country.
“The purpose of this act is to carefully regulate the use of medical cannabis as a treatment of debilitating diseases,” Rabon said during an earlier Judiciary Committee hearing on the proposal.
The N.C. Compassionate Care Act, also known as Senate Bill 711, would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for conditions like cancer, epilepsy and PTSD. A new committee at the Department of Health and Human Services could give out 10 licenses to companies that could operate up to four dispensaries each.
The bill passed a second vote in the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee Tuesday. It’s already made it through several committee votes.
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Legalization of medical marijuana seemed like a long shot in the Republican-led General Assembly, but many conservatives have voted in favor of the bill as it’s worked its way through the legislative process.
The bill still has a long way to go before it could become a law, including passage by the full state Senate, the House and a signature from the governor.
Marijuana advocates have praised the progress on the bill, but say it doesn’t go far enough.
Activists have called on senators to include opioid addiction on the list of “debilitating medical conditions” that would qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions.
Treating opioid addiction or chronic pain, which can lead to getting addicted to opioids, are not on the list.
Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat, said she talked with a doctor from Utah who spoke in favor of North Carolina’s medical marijuana bill.
“I asked him specifically whether in his state they include medical marijuana to be allowed for the treatment of chronic pain,” she said. “He said that yes they do, and that it works well there, particularly when it’s focused on using medical marijuana to reduce opioid use and addiction.”
“I said it back when we first heard the bill and I’ll say it again, that this bill would be much better if we acknowledge that we have this problem here as well,” Marcus said during the committee meeting Tuesday.
Currently, the conditions listed in the bill include cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, PTSD and multiple sclerosis.
The bill goes next to the Senate's Health Care Committee, which has already voted once to approve the Compassionate Care Act.