State Senator's testimony helps get medical marijuana bill passed; future of bill remains murky

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Testimony by NC Senator propels vote for medical marijuana bill
A bipartisan group of state senators are supporting a medical marijuana bill, which would allow for it to be used for a list of medical conditions.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A bipartisan group of state senators are supporting a medical marijuana bill, which would allow for it to be used for a list of medical conditions.

"I don't think I would have survived without (medical marijuana). I was pretty debilitated," said Republican Sen. Bill Rabon, a cancer survivor who is one of three primary sponsors of Senate Bill 3.

Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill on its third reading.

Fellow lawmakers have credited Rabon's personal testimony in helping win support for the measure, including Sen. Mike Lee, a fellow primary sponsor.

"I think that had a dramatic impact on a number of members. His personal story and personal experience. A lot of people didn't know of his cancer diagnosis, and how severe it was at that time. But as the bill has moved through the process, I would say that everyone knows someone who has suffered from some of these debilitating conditions and have gone through similar situations. And those people have felt now more comfortable sharing their story where they might not have been otherwise, and talking about how marijuana used in those instances has really helped a family member, a close friend," Lee, a Republican representing New Hanover, explained.

The North Carolina Senate has again voted to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes. The chamber voted 36-10 on Tuesday.

Titled "The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act," it's similar to legislation that ultimately failed to move forward in the House last session.

"My father died of cancer when I was 18, and he used marijuana illegally during his final days on earth and it helped," said Congressman Wiley Nickel, a Democrat who backed the legislation last session while still a member of the State Senate.

A Pew Research poll found 88% of American adults support medical marijuana, though North Carolina remains one of 13 states which has not legalized it.

"We have got to do the best that we can by our citizens. And when we look at our state next door and they're doing these kinds of things well, if it will help some of our citizens, they shouldn't have to go across the border not to break the law and to do the things that are necessary for their own health care," said Sen. Paul Lowe, Jr., a Democrat representing Forsyth County.

The bill sponsors said their focus is strictly on medical marijuana. They don't have plans to move forward with a bill supporting recreational use of the drug.

"My end goal is to have this bill signed by the Governor. That's when it all stops with me. I'll be very happy with that," said Rabon.

The bill would allow the use of medical marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Crohn's disease, Sickle cell anemia, Parkinson's disease, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Multiple sclerosis, Cachexia, severe or persistent nausea in a person who is not pregnant that is related to end-of-life or hospice care, a condition resulting in hospice care, or any other serious medical condition or its treatment added by the Compassionate Use Advisory Board.

"The benefits of medical cannabis are probably not as dramatic or as significant or as far-ranging as a lot of people would have us believe. It doesn't cure PTSD or depression, it doesn't cure cancer, and anybody who hears those stories should be skeptical. On the other hand, there are some significant benefits that have been borne out of clinical trials and reviews of multiple clinical trials. Things like chronic pain, particularly chronic pain that's caused by nerve damage, loss of appetite in the setting of advanced illness for another. Probably the treatment of nausea related to chemotherapy," said Dr. David Casarett, Section Chief of Palliative Care at Duke University School of Medicine.

SEE ALSO: 'It's just the Wild West': Lack of hemp regulation, oversight leaves consumers at risk

While the hemp industry explodes across the state, there is very little regulation around the products: No licenses are needed to sell the products; there aren't even any age limits.

Casarett said he often hears inquiries from patients regarding medical marijuana, including some who have acknowledged using it.

Despite receiving bipartisan support, the legislation faces an uncertain future in the House, and has received pushback, even amongst those who back marijuana legalization. The North Carolina chapter of NORML shared concerns that the list of conditions was too restrictive, writing as part of an Instagram post: "SB3 would NOT take any steps toward decriminalization, new crimes would be established for patients. It would not allow for cannabis use as a form of opioid use reduction ,it would also not allow patients to grow their own medicine."

"There are debilitating conditions and pain and all kinds of things that we have listed in the bill. And at some point, there will be more that will be added and should be added. But this is where we are," said Lowe, Jr.

Another concern: competition for supplier licenses. There are just 10 supplier licenses available, and first-year suppliers would need to pay a nonrefundable license fee of $50,000, plus $5,000 for each production facility or medical cannabis center. For suppliers seeking renewal, there is a nonrefundable renewal fee of $10,000, plus $5,000 for each new production facility or medical cannabis center, and $1,000 for each existing production facility or medical cannabis center.

"It definitely is set-up to let the guys with money, the bigger companies take control of the market and box out a company like ours that have been existing in this space, have a lot of a customers we've already been helping out with cannabis, just through hemp," said Louis Rubio, founder and owner of Hemp Generation in Cary.

Rubio said the business started growing in Greensboro in 2018 before opening their location in Cary a year later. He believes the restrictions of the bill boxes out smaller businesses.

"They should just involve everybody. The hemp industry's already here, the infrastructure is here already," said Rubio.