How Does Recreational Cannabis Legalization Impact the Future of Medical Cannabis?
by Chane Leigh
Economic opportunity abounds in North Carolina, where, on June 30, the State Senate cleared bipartisan legislation to establish a robust medical cannabis system. Moving forward, Senate Bill 711 will face the Senate Finance Committee, before being reviewed by members of the Finance, Health Care, and Rules and Operations committees. If SB 711 is given the green light, it will move to a Senate floor vote.
The measure, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon, provides “some compassionate care for specific ailments, to those people in North Carolina that need it, and to make them law-abiding citizens if they want to be.”
“We need to compassionately care for our fellow man in any way that we can,” added the Brunswick County Republican, whose passion for legal medical cannabis stems from his cancer diagnosis.
Not only could North Carolina’s medical cannabis bill assist cancer patients who suffer from pain and nausea but also, people with a broad spectrum of diseases and illnesses. The bill, which was approved by the majority of judiciary committee members, would develop a patient, manufacturing, licensing, and sales system for the plant’s use. Currently, North Carolina is among 14 U.S. states that do not legally allow medical cannabis use. However, the leadership council of the North Carolina-based Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians made serious headway in May, when the council agreed to legalize small amounts of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis for use on tribal territory.
Under the terms of SB 711, “qualified patients” who are legal residents of the state and are in possession of a written doctor’s/physician’s recommendation would be legally allowed to obtain the plant in pharmaceutical form. Patient registrations would be assessed via an online portal, which would be utilized by law enforcement officials and cannabis centers.
To qualify, patients must receive a diagnosis for one of the “debilitating” medical conditions featured in the bill; which include (but are not limited to) AIDS, ALS, cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the event of SB 711 being adopted by lawmakers, the list of qualifying conditions could be expanded by a 13-member Medical Cannabis Advisory Board.
Some other key facets of the bill are as follows:
The existing cannabis law in North Carolina stipulates that residents who are caught in possession of more than half an ounce – no more than 1.5 ounces – of the plant will be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor. This violation is punishable by up to 45 days behind bars and a $200 fine.
A total of 3,422 cannabis-related charges and 1,909 cannabis convictions were recorded in North Carolina during 2019. Approximately 70% of convicted individuals were of color.
In terms of cultivation, it is legal to produce industrial hemp and products that have been enriched with chemicals containing low levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
Based on public polling results that were published in June by The News & Observer, 75 percent of North Carolina voters are supportive of medical cannabis, as well as two-thirds of GOP voters.
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