Reaction guarded as medical marijuana bill passes first hurdle in NC

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The manager of The Hemp Store in Wake Forest is keeping a close eye on the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, which could legalize medical marijuana.

"We would love to kind of pursue whatever it would take to open up a medical marijuana dispensary," said Tess Medlin, manager of The Hemp Store in Wake Forest, which sells hemp-derived products. "It's a little bit early to kind of distinguish whether or not it's something we are going to be able to pursue and something we're going to be able to carry."

The North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bipartisan Senate bill Wednesday.

Senate Bill 711 still has to pass three committees before reaching the Senate floor.

"It was a historic day for North Carolina," said Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake County, who represents District 16, "This was the first time we've actually had a vote for medical marijuana so it was a real honor and a privilege to be there, to vote in the judiciary committee to advance this bill. I'm also a co-sponsor of the bill. So the time has come for medical marijuana in North Carolina. We've got 36 other states who have medical marijuana, or more, and we should join that list."

This is personal for Nickel. His father died of cancer in the 1990s at 43. His father underwent chemotherapy and radiation and used medical marijuana for his pain and to boost his appetite but did so illegally in California. Nickel said it's time to end the criminalization in North Carolina.

"He is exactly the kind of person this bill was meant to help," Nickel said. "For anyone who's gone through the end of life, somebody dying of cancer, it's very difficult. It's very tough, you know, chemo, radiation, and he used marijuana illegally during that time, and we should never, ever prevent anyone from doing the same."

If passed, only people with certain debilitating medical conditions could legally use marijuana, with a doctor's diagnosis.

"I am grateful that regardless of how restrictive it is, that we're even taking a step towards medical marijuana," Medlin said. "That being said, it does seem a bit more restrictive than quite a few other states."

An Elon University poll from earlier this year found 73 percent of people in the state support legalizing medical marijuana.

The Rev. Mark Creech, the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, sent a statement about their opposition to the bill, saying in part:

"What this bill will mostly do is dress up an illicit mind-altering product to appear as something good, which studies have shown misleads more of our youth to using it, and ultimately leads to the legalization of recreational marijuana."

A 2019 Washington State University study found minimal effect on major crime from marijuana sales in Washington state or Colorado.

Nickel said a committee will take up the bill in two weeks.
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