The North Carolina Senate committee voted in favor of the medical marijuana law bill last month on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. The committee approved a revised bill that seeks to legalize medical marijuana in the state under the N.C. Compassionate Care Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 711.
According to Marijuana Moment, Senate Bill 711 would provide medical practitioners and healthcare physicians the capacity to prescribe marijuana for certain conditions. These include the likes of cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
Apart from the aforementioned conditions, Crohn’s disease, sickle cell anemia, wasting syndrome or cachexia, severe nausea, and terminal illness where the patient’s life expectancy is less than six months, and those in hospice care due to a debilitating condition may qualify for medical cannabis use, shares WRAL.com.
The bill would also allow up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers to be in charge of the cultivation and sale of cannabis in the state. Each of these 10 suppliers can open and operate up to four cannabis dispensaries each, states Marijuana Moment.
The Senate decision comes a week after the committee met to discuss the proposed changes and legislation that would be included in the bill, states Marijuana Moment. Despite meeting a week prior, however, the senators failed to vote.
The News & Observer reports that the N.C. Compassionate Care Act seems to have gained the support and approval of both Democrats and Republicans alike.
Despite getting bipartisan support, Senate Bill 711 has garnered more support from the Democrats, with many individuals saying that the bill has one of the strictest parameters when it comes to cannabis. Although Republicans have supported the bill, the news site states that there are still some who remained silent about their stance or who have publicly opposed the bill.
The primary sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Bill Rabon said that the medical marijuana law of North Carolina is expected to be the strictest one across the whole country, reports Spectrum News 1. In a statement, Rabon said, “The purpose of this act is to carefully regulate the use of medical cannabis as a treatment of debilitating diseases.”
With the move successfully passing the Senate Judiciary Committee, Marijuana Policy Project senior legislative counsel DeVaugh Ward said in an interview with Marijuana Moment that “We’re encouraged that SB711 has been advanced by the Judiciary Committee. This is a crucial hurdle that has been cleared on the road to full passage.”
Changes Approved Under the Recent Senate Meeting
Following the passing of the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 24, 2021, the N.C. Compassionate Care Act is slated to move forward and allow North Carolina some hope to gain access to medical cannabis.
Among the changes approved by the committee include prohibiting the smoking of cannabis in public or while driving. The bill also emphasized the importance of not smoking marijuana within 1,000 feet from schools and churches, unless being consumed within a private residence, reports The News & Observer.
Moreover, the N.C. Compassionate Care Act will also see to it that the diseases and medical ailments will be thoroughly screened in order to further narrow the list of acceptable conditions. The News & Observer has since revealed that the provision allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana has been taken out, particularly for conditions that are not listed or approved.
Instead, the committee decided that doctors can only prescribe medical cannabis to individuals who have a terminal condition or those who have been given a prognosis of having less than six months to live, shares The News & Observer.
Marijuana Moment shares that those who are going into hospice due to the said conditions will also qualify for medical cannabis treatment.
However, chronic pain and opioid addiction fail to make it on the list. According to the News & Observer, the idea has been shut down primarily due to the opposition of Republicans, with many of these detractors saying that people could abuse the lake due to faking their pain.
In a statement to Marijuana Moment, Ward said a week prior that they hope that “the inclusion of chronic pain as a qualifying condition would be welcomed, as many patients that suffer from chronic pain find cannabis to be safer than opioids or other pain medications.”
Democrat Senator Natasha Marcus from Charlotte said that “This bill would be much better if it would acknowledge that we have that problem here in North Carolina as well,” particularly with the drug abuse and deaths related to opioid use.
Patient protections were also emphasized and included in the latest version of the bill, with a provision saying that holders of medical cannabis should treat it the same way as any other controlled substance.
Lastly, the document saw more additional requirements that medical professionals needed to provide prior to prescribing medical marijuana to qualified patients.
With the bill slated to pass through the Senate healthcare committee and the rules and operations committee before being evaluated for a full vote before the House of Representatives, the parameters and the overall legislation could still change. It will also be evaluated by the governor for full approval, said Marijuana Moment.
Current Marijuana Landscape in North Carolina
As of writing, medical marijuana has now been legal across 37 states in the United States of America. However, it still remains illegal and inaccessible in the state of North Carolina.
The current North Carolina law still penalizes those who possess more than half an ounce of cannabis up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis under class 1 misdemeanor. Offenders who are found in violation of this law will be subjected to imprisonment of up to 45 days and a fine of $200. Most of these convictions leaned towards people of color and minorities, reveals Marijuana Moment.
Although there have been efforts to get the state to approve a medical marijuana law in the past, these have proved unfruitful. However, there have been talks on moving to decriminalize marijuana as part of North Carolina’s racial equity movement.
Marijuana Moment said that a task force advocating for cannabis legalization in the state also highlighted the need for prior cannabis convictions to be cleared