On March 1 at 4:20 p.m., a time whose significance is not lost on marijuana users, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill legalizing the use of the substance for medical needs.
Senate Bill 3, titled the "N.C. Compassionate Care Act," legalizes medical marijuana for patients with cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses.
The bill must be heard and passed by the state House before it will be signed into law or vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper. On Monday, it passed its first reading in the House.
Although S.B. 3 passed 36 to 10 with bipartisan support in the state Senate, its future is somewhat more uncertain in the state House. Last year, Senate Bill 711, also titled the "N.C. Compassionate Care Act," passed in the N.C. Senate but died in the House.
According to this year's bill, those with qualifying conditions or a designated caregiver will be able to purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries with the use of an identification card.
Physicians will be required to complete a 10-hour educational course and complete further supplemental training during any year when they issue a written certification, according to the bill. They will also be required to frequently reevaluate patients to determine the efficacy of the use of cannabis as treatment.
The N.C. General Assembly's legislative fiscal note for the bill says the legislation would increase revenue for the state. Over time, it is anticipated that patient and caregiver registry card application fees and gross receipt fees will generate most of the revenue.
N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person) said legalizing, taxing, regulating and decriminalizing marijuana has been one of his most prevalent issues. He said he hopes to see it pass this year and later move into recreational use in the near future.
“I'm very optimistic about the conversations that are being had in Raleigh right now and about people's interest in this across the state,” Meyer said. “And I do think that we will likely see legislation moving ahead over the course of this year.”
He also wants to see three changes and clarifications to the bill: the full decriminalization of marijuana, outlining where the revenue from marijuana taxation will go and establishing an alternative to a "vertical market."
In the vertical market, companies would control the growth, production, distribution and sales of the product. Meyer noted that the industry would really be controlled by out-of-state multinational corporations.
“We need to unwind the negative effects of criminalization of people who have been marijuana users,” Meyer said. “And we need to make sure that anyone who's been convicted of a crime that they would no longer be eligible to be convicted of after this law goes into effect — that those folks actually get their sentences expunged."
Meyer explained that current CBD stores are not really a part of the bill's priorities. These stores sell products made from marijuana but don't contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that produces a high. He added that North Carolina needs legislation to regulate intoxicating CBD products such as Delta-8.
However, Jane Allred, business manager for Asheville Hemp Farms, said the legalization of cannabis could be a problem for businesses like hers.
“North Carolina is really determined to make everything government regulated just like our ABC stores," she said. “They want to do something similar with marijuana as far as the only facilities to enter and purchase products will be government owned and operated, which does eliminate a lot of the free market for us.”
As a user of marijuana, Allred said cannabis helped her through addiction, recovery and chronic mental illness. They said they are also concerned about the cost of medical marijuana, considering it will be government regulated.
Amanda Corbett, a clinical associate professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, shared concern over the operational side of medical marijuana.
She said she hopes the state plans ahead to ensure that prescribers, dispensers, patients and caregivers are able to get what they need and distribute cannabis in a safe way.
However, she also said it's important to have cannabis available for people that really need it so patients don't have to move to other states.
Corbett said she wants to see North Carolina implement requirements for pharmacists and dispensaries that are similar to other states.
Medical marijuana use is legal in 38 other states.
Corbett said data has shown that medical marijuana can be helpful for patients. She also said she has seen cancer patients and HIV patients that have used medical marijuana for pain and found the results to be helpful.
“It's really going to be based on looking at the data very carefully with the product that will be allowed to be grown, dispensed, delivered directly to the patient and having very clear recommendations around in North Carolina,” she said.
Bailey White contributed reporting to this article.
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