News, Politics

NC Senate Committee Votes to Advance Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill

September 22, 2021 03:00 pm ET
NC Senate Committee Votes to Advance Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill

A legislative committee voted vigorously in opposition to medical cannabis legalization in North Carolina six years ago, but things have changed a lot since then. In a groundbreaking moment on Tuesday, August 24, North Carolina Senate committee voted in approval of a revised bill to legalize medical cannabis statewide.

Prior to the bill’s approval, a different version made its way through the Judiciary and another committee in July. However, the measure was rereferred in early August. The latest rule adoption demonstrates growing acceptance for the plant in its medicinal form. 

The latest news emerges one week after the legislation was considered during a hearing. However, members of the panel failed to approve changes during that meeting. A voice vote from Senators led to the most recent advancement for medical cannabis in North Carolina.

What Happens Next for SB711?

Moving forwards, the bill must gain approval from the Senate Health Care and Rules and Operations Committees, before it makes its way to the floor and potentially progresses to the House of Representatives. The final stage would see the governor put his signature on North Carolina’s medical cannabis bill.

“We’re encouraged that SB711 has been advanced by the Judiciary Committee,” said DeVaughn Ward, who serves as senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This a crucial hurdle that has been cleared on the road to full passage”.

Contrastingly, in March 2015, a group of Republican military veterans was left feeling disappointed after lawmakers rejected their attempt to legalize medical cannabis. A bipartisan committee in the Republican-led North Carolina legislature voted “no” in unison to the request, which could have—had it been approved—enabled veterans to reduce the symptoms of mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

About the NC Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill

If the proposal—which was sponsored by Rules Committee Chairman Bill Rabon (R)—is enacted into law, patients who are diagnosed with a “debilitating medical condition” could legally gain access to medical cannabis in North Carolina. After enrollment, patients would need to be reevaluated by their healthcare practitioner/doctor for a minimum of one year.

As per the proposed bill, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and HIV/AIDS are some examples of medical conditions featured on the list of qualifying criteria. The committee-amended bill was also updated to allow patients who rely on hospice care, as well as terminally ill patients, to qualify for medical cannabis.

Aside from being able to obtain cannabis-based medicines and cannabis-infused products with a valid doctor’s recommendation, qualifying medical cannabis patients in North Carolina could also legally possess a maximum of one and a half ounces of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis. Home cannabis cultivation, on the other hand, would be forbidden.

Patients who qualify for medical cannabis in North Carolina would be granted the opportunity to smoke and vape the plant.  Under the updated legislation, doctors would be obligated to prescribe patients with a suitable dosage and method of consumption; based on the patient’s health status and qualifying conditions.

The defining explanation of what is considered to be a “cannabis-infused” product was amended in the latest substitute version of North Carolina’s medical cannabis law. The language contained in the revised bill stipulates that cannabis-infused products include “a tablet, a capsule, a concentrated liquid or viscous oil, a liquid suspension, a topical preparation, a transdermal preparation, a sublingual preparation, a gelatinous cube, gelatinous rectangular cuboid, lozenge in a cube or rectangular cuboid shape, a resin or wax.”

A yet-to-be-established 13-member Compassionate Use Advisory Board would be tasked with adding new qualifying conditions. Additionally, North Carolina’s amended medical cannabis bill calls for a nine-member Medical Cannabis Production Commission to be created. This Commission would be tasked with licensing oversight, patient cannabis supply issues, and program-allocated revenue generation.

Up to 10 Medical Cannabis Suppliers Could Grow and Sell in North Carolina 

In the event that North Carolina’s medical cannabis bill becomes effective in the near future, the number of medical cannabis suppliers who are allowed to manage the plant’s sale and cultivation would be capped at 10. A total of four dispensaries could be operated by each supplier.

Numerous cannabis advocates across the state have responded to these cultivation rules. The main concern surrounds eligibility, with legal cannabis supporters and lobbyists wondering exactly who would be eligible to receive a cultivation license.

The amended measure asserts that medical cannabis cultivation applicants in North Carolina must first be willing to show documentation proving that they have a minimum of five years experience “in cultivation, production, extraction, product development, quality control, and inventory management of medical cannabis in a state-licensed medical or adult-use cannabis operation.”

Based on the stipulated rule, dispensaries and licenses would be handled exclusively by legitimate out-of-state cannabis companies – something that advocates believe will leave small, in-state businesses isolated from industry involvement.

“Although we are in strong support of medical marijuana legalization and the relief it will bring to patients in North Carolina, we remain concerned about the lack of opportunities for small and independent businesses,” said Ward of the MPP.

North Carolina Ought to Catch Up with the Rest of the U.S.

As of August 2021, medical cannabis has been legalized in 36 states and Washington, D.C. In regards to recreational cannabis, 18 states have enacted legalization. 

With more U.S. states starting to embrace the plant’s widespread uses, not to mention acknowledge the industry’s swelling value, North Carolina could seriously benefit from catching up. Even lawmakers in Virginia (the state’s northern neighbor) passed a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis this past April.

A lack of legal medical cannabis in North Carolina means that patients who rely on plant-based treatment are forced to either go without or seek out the plant from alternative sources, such as the unregulated black market. Moreover, money is being left on the table – medical cannabis is expected to generate $12 billion in the U.S. by 2024.

A poll carried out by Elon University in collaboration with The Charlotte Observer, The Durham Herald-Sun, and The Raleigh News & Observer discovered that 73% of state voters are in favor of medical cannabis legalization. What’s more, just over 50% of voters want to see a recreational cannabis legalization law enacted across the state. Interestingly, 64% of polled voters believe that legal cannabis could strengthen North Carolina’s economy.

During the hearing on August 24, committee members also approved a separate amendment that was supported by the state attorney general’s office. The amendment highlighted issues pertaining to probable cause for evidence found during drug searches.

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Bethan Rose Jenkins
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