State Senate Bill 711, or the NC Compassionate Care Act, is the state’s latest attempt. North Carolina is one of the only states left in the U.S. that still doesn’t even have at least a medical program.
On July 21, the bill passed the judiciary committee and was sent to the Senate Health Care committee. It was then removed from that committee and sent back to the judiciary committee on August 4 for more amendments and technical changes requested by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
The bill is being sponsored by Bill Rabon, a Republican from Brunswick. Some of the changes being made are also based on regulations made in Utah to a similar bill. Revisions include adding a new category for folks with terminal illnesses and less than six months to live, prohibition on smoking or vaping at school or in the workplace or house of worship, an identification card program for those who get prescribed medical cannabis and specific operating hours for dispensaries.
Still, the bill does not have a free and clear path yet. The Senate Health Care committee will be tough to pass, and the House is expected to give some pushback as well.
North Carolina Pushes Through
However, analysts do think the bill has a good chance of clearing the senate, since Rabon is also chairman of the Rules and Operations Committee. Also sponsoring the bill are Senators Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth and Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.
If passed, funding for the bill would come from license fees and a monthly fee that equals 10 percent of gross revenue from cannabis sales. This would be different from other legal states.
“There really are no projections on how many North Carolinians will be eligible, and there is no best-practice legislation to look at,” Lee said. “Once we have a determination on how many people actually have the conditions that are specified in the bill, then we can determine costs and revenue.”
Those supporting the bill claim it should pass because it is still very restrictive, and therefore shouldn’t raise alarms for those nervous about legalization. Senator Wally Nickel, D-Wake, called it “the most conservative and restrictive medical marijuana bill in the country.”
“This bill is narrowly tailored to offer medical marijuana to those with legitimate medical needs,” Nickel said.
To support its passing, the bill also claims that “modern medical research has found that cannabis and cannabinoid compounds are effective at alleviating pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with several debilitating medical conditions.”
Some still have concerns about legalizing medically, despite all this. The Reverend Mark Creech of the Christian Action League claims that marijuana should be taxed similarly to tobacco and alcohol, rather than as a prescription drug. He worries about a black market emerging from the legal, medical cannabis centers.
But Rabon, a Republican and cancer survivor, disagrees. And Lee, who does not support recreational cannabis, also backs up the reasoning for needing a medical market.
“Recreational marijuana use is not something we want in our state,” Lee said.
“We realized that, for some states, it has worked out well, while for others it was just a recreational product,” Lowe said regarding the bill. “That’s not the goal with this particular bill in our state.”
The bill has also been amended to reduce the number of medical centers from eight to four, in order to further impose control on the industry. If this bill does pass, it will still be very restrictive, but relief to cannabis patients will finally be in sight.