A proposal that would legalize medical marijuana for conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS and severe PTSD in North Carolina will be back up for debate in 2022.

The Compassionate Care Act has gotten bipartisan support in the North Carolina Senate, but has not yet gone to the full Senate for a vote. The bill was moving quickly through committees over the summer before legislators turned their attention to redistricting and the state budget.

“We’re planning on picking up the rest and getting it through during the short session,” said Sen. Paul Lowe, a Forsyth County Democrat and a primary sponsor of the bill.

What You Need To Know

  • The Compassionate Care Act would legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina

  • The bill restricts prescribing medical pot to people with debilitating conditions like cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS and severe PTSD

  • The bill has gotten bipartisan support in North Carolina Senate committees so far

  • The full Senate could take up the bill this spring. If it passes the Senate, the North Carolina House could begin debating medical marijuana during the short session

The bill has two powerful Senate Republicans backing it too: Bill Rabon, from southeastern North Carolina, and Michael Lee from New Hanover County.

The proposal would create a framework for legally prescribing and selling medical marijuana. Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C., already legalized medical or recreational marijuana, including Virginia, which completely legalized cannabis earlier this year.

North Carolina’s law would be one of the tightest in the nation, Rabon said during debate over the bill earlier this year. It sets a list of medical conditions and patients allowed to be treated with marijuana, including for cancer, epilepsy, HIV or AIDS, Crohn’s disease, sickle cell anemia and several other debilitating conditions.

Any patients in hospice care would be allowed to get marijuana.

Post-traumatic stress disorder was initially left out of the proposal. But after hearing from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, state Senate members decided to include a narrow set of people with PTSD in the bill.

Medical marijuana would be available to people with evidence that they experienced traumatic events, including combat veterans, victims of violent crimes and first responders, according to the latest draft of the bill.

“Anybody can’t just go out and get medical marijuana. It’s not legalization in a more profound sense at all. But it’s targeted to various medical conditions,” Lowe said in a recent interview with Spectrum News 1.

What’s in the bill?

The Compassionate Care Act sets up an advisory committee under the Department of Health and Human Services and a new commission to oversee the production, distribution and prescribing of medical marijuana and edible marijuana products.

The bill would allow the new commission to award 10 medical marijuana licenses to businesses, which can have up to four dispensaries each. Each distributor has to have at least one dispensary in a Tier 1 county, meaning one of the poorest counties in the state.

Patients who are prescribed medical marijuana will get a registry card, similar to medical marijuana cards used in other states. North Carolina will keep a database of the people prescribed medical marijuana, according to the latest draft of the bill.

Marijuana suppliers will have to keep close records of production from “seed to sale” and make that information available to state regulators in real time. The pot and marijuana-infused products would all have to be tested by independent labs before they're sold.

The bill includes tight restrictions for when and where dispensaries can operate. They cannot be near a church or a school and would only be allowed to operate from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Under the current Senate bill, dispensaries would not be allowed to advertise. They also would not be allowed to use pot leaves or cartoon images in their logos.

What’s next?

The North Carolina Senate is expected to take up the bill during the 2022 short session, which starts in the spring. The bill has received bipartisan support from Senate committees on health care, judiciary and finance, and could be one vote away from going before the full Senate.

If the bill passes the Senate, it would head next to the House.

House majority whip Rep. John Hardister, a Guilford County Republican, said he has not done a vote count to see how much support the bill has there.

“I’m in favor of the bill. I’m in favor of medical marijuana,” he said.

“I think that doctors ought to have the ability to prescribe it. I think that in many ways, based on the research that I’ve done, medical marijuana is less addictive and harmful than some of the opioids that are currently legal,” Hardister said.

With powerful Senate Republicans backing the bill, it could pass that chamber early in the short session. That would be the farthest a medical marijuana bill has ever made it in North Carolina, then it would be up to the House to decide if it will actually become a law.