The North Carolina General Assembly filed two new bills that can help reform the state’s marijuana laws, reported The News & Observer. One of the bills seeks to legalize medical marijuana, while the other aims for full legalization of the plant.

Democrat Senator Wiley Nickel, who is a co-sponsor for both bills, is determined to push some form of legalization of the plant. To achieve this, he said, “We want to leave no stone unturned. I think in states that have moved forward, there’s usually more support for medical. I think that’s probably the first step for North Carolina. Although I personally support full legalization.”

 Marijuana Bills Filed in North Carolina

The current bills are called Senate Bill 669, which pushes for medical marijuana legalization, while the other is called Senate Bill 646, which seeks to fully legalize the plant.

To further support the push for legalization, Nickel asserted that numerous studies have shown that the plant is a legitimate treatment aid for several medical conditions and symptoms. He also noted that realistically speaking, people have been using this plant to medicate regardless of laws.

Nickel is speaking from personal experience as his father reportedly used unregulated cannabis to relieve cancer symptoms. He noted that such consumption can be risky as it breaks the law. He said, “I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of the means to help in a situation like my father’s.”

Another Democrat, Senator Jay Chaudhuri speculates that one bill may be more favorable to the public. He said, “I suspect there may be some willingness to give the medical marijuana bill a hearing, and maybe even pass it this session. I think there are now 37 state that have passed this.”

His idea is supported by a poll conducted by Elon University. According to the results, a major part of the North Carolina population is in favor of medical marijuana and full legalization, although cannabis for therapeutic purposes is more popular. The public poll showed that 73% of North Carolinians support medical marijuana. Even two-thirds of the Republican participants voted in favor of this.

Elon University Poll director Jason Husser noted, “On most issues where you have almost 80% support for legalization, you see it gets legalized. Not in North Carolina, though.” It is important to note that many conservative states have made medical cannabis legal including Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, and West Virginia. These states saw the legalization through ballot initiatives, in which citizens gathered signations to place the proposal on the election ballot. However, North Carolina needs to rely on its legislature as ballot initiatives are not allowed in the state.

This is not the first time that marijuana bills have been presented to North Carolinian lawmakers, although they did not reach the voting phase and fizzled out before they is heard on committee meetings.

Aside from its therapeutic potentials, the legalization of the plant, particularly recreational cannabis, is expected to have a positive economic effect on the state. Chaudhuri, who co-sponsored the full legalization proposal, asserted that this move will generate jobs and increase the state’s tax revenues by millions of dollars.

Moreover, he believed that such a reform will help reduce the inequitable implementation of current marijuana laws, especially in relation to minority communities. He said, “This bill is also about restorative justice because we know that while Black and white people use marijuana at the same rate, Black people are more than 3.7 times more likely to arrested for it.”

Meanwhile, talks of legalization on the federal level are becoming stronger what with the Democrats taking control of the Congress after a decade. Democratic President Joe Biden has stated his support for medical cannabis in the past but not for recreational marijuana. Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted that they “will move forward” with the push for full legalization.

Nickel is optimistic about this renewed push for legalization in the state. He said that even if Republicans are not receptive to the idea, he is hoping that lawmakers might be willing to see decriminalization as a first step. He remarked, “I’m hopeful at least we will continue efforts on decriminalization. Our police should be focusing on bigger, more important issues.”

Democrats in the legislation are not the only ones supporting the legalization effort. According to The News & Observer, high-ranking Republican Senator Bill Rabon introduced another bill (Senate Bill 711), which recognizes the medicinal potentials of cannabis and gives doctors the ability to prescribe it in particular cases.

Also called the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, the bill is backed by Republican legislators other Republican legislators including Senator Michael Lee, reported WECT News. What makes this proposal unique is it is a bipartisan push. The initiative is also joined by Democrat Senator Paul Lowe as co-sponsor.

Lee said, “There are always bills related to medical cannabis and the legalization of cannabis, I think this is probably the first bill that has been introduced by Republicans and Democrats. It is a bipartisan bill that looks at medical cannabis as a way to help those who have these severe debilitating conditions to manage those symptoms.”

He is hopeful that this proposal will benefit patients and the state as a whole, especially with its potential to contribute economically through sales. Lee said, “That bill is essentially a medical cannabis bill, and it essentially allows for cannabis to be grown, manufactured, processed, in North Carolina, and ultimately sold to someone who has received a prescription for certain severe medical illness.

 Marijuana Bills Filed in North Carolina

Just like President Biden, Lee expressed reservations about the recreational use of the plant and strongly emphasized that the bill is for medicinal uses to treat debilitating conditions. However, the list of qualifying conditions would be quite limited.

The co-sponsor is optimistic about the progress of the bill despite some positive and negative reactions to it and expects it to move forward over the next weeks. He also acknowledged that the proposal might see some modifications as it moves along until it reaches the voting phase.

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