RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Access to medical marijuana could become a reality in North Carolina if some state lawmakers have their way.
The House Health Committee talked Tuesday about the Compassionate Care Act, which is a bill that would make it legal for some people to use medical marijuana.
Senator Rabon stood in front of the committee and said the bill only makes changes to existing North Carolina law that are necessary to protect patients and their doctors from criminal penalties. He said the purpose of the bill is to allow tightly regulated use of medical marijuana only for people with debilitating Illnesses like cancer, ALS, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, PTSD or terminal illness.
There will be a licensing and regulatory authority and only 10 suppliers will be allowed for the entire state, and they're banned from most forms of advertising.
"I support this bill as well. You guys know particularly in the veteran community we have now lost more veterans to suicide than we've lost in the last two wars we fought. So this is a personal issue for me," said Allen Chesser of District 25.
"We do not decide medicine in the U.S. by anecdote or by stories. We decide it based on science. I'm going to ask you to exercise some humility. You are not the FDA," said David Evans with North Carolinians Against Legalizing Marijuana.
State Senator reveals he smoked pot
The North Carolina General Assembly's chief advocate for legalizing medical marijuana in the state revealed publicly on Tuesday how he smoked pot more than 20 years ago to withstand the discomforts of chemotherapy during a fight with cancer.
Sen. Bill Rabon of Brunswick County has been working for years on a measure that lays out a structure for patients with serious and terminal illnesses to lawfully obtain cannabis and smoke or consume it. Legislative opponents of the idea - fewer than in previous years but still a significant bloc - argue that marijuana can lead to medical harm, only masks symptoms, and would lead to making recreational use lawful.
Rabon had described himself as a colon cancer survivor but had been reticent on many details, particularly whether he had used marijuana, until pitching his bill in the House Health Committee three months after it passed the full Senate. The veterinarian recalled taking a few puffs at home after days of tremendous nausea at work to get through to the next day.
"I've told it many, many times privately, and I have no shame in saying, you know, 'this is what you will do in order to stay alive,'" Rabon told reporters after the meeting by the committee, which didn't vote on the measure Tuesday.
Rabon, now 71, said he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at age 48. After surgery, Rabon's oncologist said that he had 18 months to live. Rabon was dissatisfied with chemotherapy treatment after three months. Rabon recalled how the oncologist said a more aggressive form of treatment would make him "real sick," and told him he needed "to get some good marijuana."
Rabon said he didn't do drugs but was worried and desperate. He said he told his local police chief and sheriff that "I'm going to have to buy drugs illegally to stay alive." He never had to - Rabon said pot would show up in his mailbox as needed.
Having access to the tokes at home is "the only reason I'm alive today," he told the committee. "I know that tens of thousands of people in the state would benefit just as I did" if the medical marijuana bill became law, he added.
Father blames marijuana for son's untimely death
People passionately believe this legislation could either save or destroy lives.
"It was just devastating," said Darryl Rodgers. "We had an intervention in our home. We got him into treatment in South Florida."
Rodgers said his son Chase was battling a marijuana addiction when he died. Rodgers had spent thousands of dollars for rehab to get his son back on track.
Chase ended up relapsing nine years ago and dying in a car crash.
The 20-year-old was a passenger and the authorities said the driver had no alcohol in her system, but she did have traces of marijuana when she slammed into a tree.
Rodgers said he believes the Compassionate Care Act could put lives at risk if it becomes law.
"This bill is not about medicine. This bill is the foot in the door towards full legalization and the marijuana industry has a lot of money so they can use their money to influence people."
George Papastrat is hoping to start using medical marijuana to treat PSTD.
He said, "Sometimes when you close your eyes, you see things that you wouldn't normally see or want to see. You remember events that were very unfortunate."
He served in the Marines for more than a decade.
Papastrat said he used his fair share of prescription drugs to cope with the trauma of fighting in multiple wars.
"You have to look at the long-term effects of the young men and women who fought, who don't need to be taking prescription medication," he said. "I have to think my body is more appreciative than a gummy that I can take (rather) than all these prescription pills that no one wants."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.