RALEIGH, N.C. -- Debate on the legalization of marijuana in North Carolina for medical purposes returned on Wednesday to the state Senate, where a very similar measure creating the framework for its sale and use passed the full chamber by a wide margin just eight months ago.
The Senate Judiciary Committee debated but did not vote on new legislation that was filed a few weeks ago at the start of the new two-year General Assembly session. Sen. Bill Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican, said he and his fellow colleagues who are bill sponsors wanted to review expected amendments in time for a committee meeting next week.
While the prospects for passage again in the Senate are strong this year, the bill's future likely will rest in the House, which declined to take up the previous edition of the proposal before going home last summer. Speaker Tim Moore suggested recently that support was possible in his chamber this year for legalizing pot for the treatment of medical conditions, particularly if the regulations involve physicians and tight controls.
Bill supporters pitch the legalization of smoking or consuming cannabis as a way to give relief to people with one of a dozen conditions and from which their doctors say they could benefit. Marijuana for recreational use would remain illegal. Bill critics contend marijuana's health benefits remain uncertain and its health risks are great.
The introduced bill would create a proposed Medical Cannabis Production Commission that would award licenses to 10 entities that would grow cannabis, process it and sell it. Each licensee could open eight medical cannabis centers.
They could sell up to 30-day supplies of marijuana or cannabis-infused products to patients or their caregivers, who would have to obtain registration cards from the state Department of Health and Human Services. The licensees would have to send 10% of their monthly revenues to the state.
Kevin Caldwell with the Marijuana Policy Project and Southeast Legislative Manager said the project has been in existence since 1995 and is the leading organization that works for sensible cannabis policy across the country.
He said he got involved when his wife had breast cancer ten years ago, which catapulted him into advocacy.
"This is not a partisan issue or it shouldn't be. We see medical cannabis in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, LA, Arkansas and these are conservative states moving forward with medical cannabis programs."
There are three committees in the State Senate that this would have to go through before it hits the Senate Floor; then the committee process would begin on the House side before it went to Governor for final vote. SB 3 is vertically integrated too; those who grow Cannabis would also process It and then make it into tinctures and oils for vaporization.
"It has a very limited number of ailments covered. It would create a commission that would add or delete conditions at the will of the commission," Caldwell said. "We just hope that the legislature listens to what the people of NC want and provide this medicine."
Chris Karazin of Carolindica manufacturers and sells hemp. They put it into forms consumers can now legally buy.
"We were able to drive so much more with this hemp and we're trying to set the groundwork for what we think cannabis should look like," he said. "The hardest thing is creating change on this kind of level. It's just not easy you know."
Karazin said he's fully supportive of medical marijuana, but doesn't think this is the greatest bill to do this. He said it's too restrictive on the kinds of ailments you have to have and too expensive for a local business to be involved with.
"There are like 8 or so things you can get it for...not even pain...I looked at it and not even extreme pain that's the most basic one we can talk sleep, infinitely about other things that people use...I have a ADHD, I have friends in other states who have things for ADHD as well," he said.
Karazin said it cost $50,000 for a license for a new supplier.
"It's really that point where it's like I understand from the lawmakers perspective: they want to get something passed where in theory it's a step in the right direction where it's something we support but then when it's done in a way where it's not helping NC businesses," he said.