Legislation Update: Medical Marijuana Legalization NC
Earlier this year, revisions were approved for North Carolina Senate Bill 711 by the North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Rabon, and would allow patients to possess and consume medical marijuana to manage a debilitating medical condition. The newly revised bill adds terminally ill patients to the program, making medical marijuana in North Carolina accessible for those who have less than 6 months to live and for people who require hospice care.
The new version of the bill includes other changes in the form of amendments to the definition of “cannabis-infused products,” allowing for edibles, concentrates, topicals, and flower products. It also makes it so that doctors must have continual education to provide medical marijuana, going as far as making it so they have to prescribe specific delivery methods and dosages for patients like any other prescription medication.
The revised bill also outlines the ID requirements for patients in the program and limits the areas where they can use their medicine. Lastly, the revised SB 711 added more members to the nine-member Medical Cannabis Production Commission and created a 13-member Compassionate Use Advisory Board that could add new qualifying medical conditions to human services.
Even though these changes were approved by the committee, the bill will still need to be voted on by the Judiciary Committee again. From there, it must pass the Health Care and Operations Committees before reaching the floor for senate approval in the next general assembly.
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So what’s going on with medical marijuana legalization in North Carolina?
Cannabis reform has been a hot topic throughout the year. 54% of North Carolina residents support going fully recreational while a whopping 74% legalizing a medical marijuana program. In April, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger acknowledged that “public opinion is changing” on the issue and indicated that state legislatures may start to reconsider legalizing medical marijuana.
Right now, North Carolina has what’s known as a compassionate care act, which gives terminally ill people and people with debilitating medical conditions the chance to use medical marijuana to manage their symptoms. They’ve also legalized the use of cannabis extracts made with CBD to manage things like chronic pain and other debilitating conditions with a doctor’s recommendation.
But ultimately, the status of medical marijuana legalization in NC is a little in the weeds right now. They’re only allowing for 10 licenses, with each license allowed to operate up to four dispensaries. Under this bill, the people who would be eligible to have licenses to provide medical marijuana would have to already have 5 years of 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.”
That means that small businesses would have no opportunities in North Carolina. Dispensaries would be exclusively operated by established big businesses with millions of dollars from other states. Advocates are still hoping to see more revisions that would expand the medical marijuana bill and promote social equity.
Marijuana Legalization NC
On the other hand, a handful of other bills have been introduced to legalize cannabis completely, as well as end criminalization. A separate medical cannabis bill and an adult-use marijuana legalization bill is currently pending along with several pieces of decriminalization legislation. However, with the GOP-controlled legislature, the bills may struggle.
Advocates have doubts about broad legalization being enacted during this session, but since opinions are shifting, many members of the house of representatives and senate in North Carolina have been addressing the issue.
Virginia was the first state nearby to decriminalize marijuana, eventually legalizing it in DC. They legalized weed and allowed small amounts of it to be gifted without criminal persecution. This puts pressure on neighboring states like North Carolina to look at ending criminalization.
A task force started by Gov. Ray Cooper backed decriminalization as the first step in a series of policy reforms on racial equity released last year. They believe that prior cannabis convictions should be expunged and that the state should consider legalizing altogether.
Right now, Senate Bill 646, House Bill 617, and House Bill 576 would allow 21+ adults to have up to two ounces of weed and 15 grams of concentrates. They’d also allow people to grow up to 6 marijuana plants for their own personal use. Each one would help people get prior cannabis convictions expunged for any offenses that were made legal under these bills.
Further, they’d create an Office of Social Equity, which would promote participation in the cannabis industry from communities and ethnic groups that were disproportionately harmed during prohibition and the war on drugs. It would help restore these marginalized groups and impact the communities positively.
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Decriminalized Vs. Legal
Right now, North Carolina is working out the details of a medical marijuana program. As it stands, the state has a compassionate care act enacted and laws that allow for CBD products to be prescribed by medical professionals. However, they have also decriminalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use for first-time possession charges.
The state is also allowing for the conditional release of people facing their first prosecutions, allowing people to opt for probation rather than a trial. As it stands, that’s as far as you can get with marijuana in North Carolina. While medical marijuana is on the market, the state is also looking at legalizing marijuana altogether and also decriminalizing it even further.
Decriminalization does not mean legalization, though. Marijuana legalization in NC has a long way to go before they get there, but they’re taking the right steps. As of right now, the closest place you can go to enjoy legal weed is in Washington DC. If you live in North Carolina, be sure to keep a close watch on North Carolina NORML for regular legislation updates, legalization updates, and an in-depth look at the laws and penalties surrounding marijuana use and possession in the meantime.
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