The North Carolina Senate took the first steps towards legalizing the use of medical marijuana throughout the state in early June with the passing of the Compassionate Care Act.
If approved, the bill would allow physicians to prescribe medical cannabis to patients for conditions including cancer, epilepsy, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. Conditions such as chronic pain, glaucoma and anxiety are not included. Eligible patients younger than 18 years old could also consume medical cannabis through a noninhalation method with the consent and care of a legal guardian.
It would also set up a system with licensed cannabis producers, distributors and two regulatory boards. A new Medical Cannabis Production Commission would issue 10 supplier licenses, each of which are allowed eight potential dispensaries.
SB 711 received bipartisan support and opposition. Led by Sen. Bill Rabon, it ultimately passed with a vote of 35-10. Eight Republicans and two Democrats voted against the bill.
Sen. Natalie Murdock cited bipartisan support as the main reason the bill was passed. Rabon was a cancer survivor, and seeing the pain that he and his friends lived through helped him learn about the medical benefits of cannabis, she said.
“[Legislators] legislate from their lived experience,” Murdock said. “Folks may have preconceived notions or opinions, but when it impacts them or their family or their friends, it will change their perspective.”
In order for SB 711 to become a law, it must pass in the House and be signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Cooper’s spokesperson Jordan Monaghan said in a statement that the governor “supports efforts to make medical marijuana available.” House Speaker Tim Moore told WRAL that he opposes SB 711 and that the bill is unlikely to be considered by the House before the end of the short session.
A competing medical marijuana bill requiring U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval may prevent the Compassionate Care Act from being approved in the House. On June 8, the House voted in favor of Senate Bill 448, a bill that legalizes FDA-approved prescription drugs containing marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC.
On June 14, Cooper signed SB 448 into law, which forces the state to wait for federal marijuana legalization. So far, the FDA has only approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products.
Harrison Tulloss, a Wilson-based hemp producer, told The Carolina Journal that Senate Bill 711 is a “good step,” but North Carolina is ultimately a “farming state.”
“I would like to see a way to have [the bill] benefit more farmers, more communities, across North Carolina. Right now, it seems like the big publicly-traded companies are at the table,” Tulloss said.
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Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.