RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – One day after clearing the judicial committee, Senate Bill 3 – the latest effort to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina – has taken another quick hit on its path to approval.

After reviewing the numbers and adopting one amendment, the Finance Committee on a voice vote passed along “The Compassionate Care Act” to the Rules & Operations Committee, which is where a bill would pause before moving to the floor for debate and up-or-down votes.

State Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick, right) and Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem) present Senate Bill 3 to legalize medical marijuana, which was approved Wednesday in a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee. (WGHP)

The Finance Committee spent only about 20 minutes for full consideration of the bill, including hearing from the ever-present four speakers from the public who find fault with the idea of offering medical relief for some ailments through the prescribed and licensed use of cannabis products.

When the Rules Committee might take up this bill is uncertain, but the committee does have a standing meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. And the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), is its chair. Rabon did not respond immediately to an email asking for a timetable.

The bill is not listed among the dozens on the committee’s docket, which includes a variety of Senate bills that are winding toward the floor and several passed from the House, including Medicaid expansion and the bill to clarify Guilford County Board of Education elections.

Wednesday’s hearing was strictly about the financial aspects of SB 3, but an amendment brought forward by staff was adopted to clarify some cross-references and language that had evolved as parts of the bill had changed or been amended dating back to last year.

You likely recall that SB 711 was passed last spring by the Senate but never got a whiff of a vote in the House. This bill, Rabon says, is almost identical to those he has “spent three years on.”

He explained Wednesday that each application to be a supplier of medical cannabis would pay a $50,000 non-refundable licensing fee and then $5,000 for each production or sales facility it planned to operate.

State Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro) asks a question during Wednesday’s Senate Finance Committee meeting to discuss medical marijuana. The bill passed.

Licenses would be awarded to 10 dealers who would operate up to eight outlets. There have been amendments to ensure there is access to the final products in all 100 counties.

Under the fees/fines/audits portion of the bill, each licensee would pay 10% of its monthly of gross revenue derived from the sale.

Under a question from Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Buncombe), Rabon said that the NC Department of Health & Human Services had been consulted to ensure the departmental expenses for the program would be covered by the fees.

Some opponents from the public spoke about the other costs to businesses, such as workman comp’s claim. At least one cited speaker numbers that suggested claims had risen in states that had legalized medical marijuana.

Another speaker who routinely supports the bill questioned some of the vagaries in the numbers that suggested North Carolina would be charging dealers more than other states that had adopted medical cannabis.

That prompted a question from state Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro) about whether the financial specifics of the bill were cost-prohibitive to start-up businesses.

Rabon: “The total cost is about $150,000. … I don’t think the fees themselves are any additional burden, especially compared to other costs in starting a start-up program.”

Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) told Robinson that some “speakers have said we are not charging nearly enough.”

Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem), one of the bill’s presenting sponsors, told Robinson that some states charge much more. “We are on the low end,” he said. “I don’t think we are too high at all.”

Widespread support

The sponsors remind that this bill is not authorization of recreational marijuana, which is legal in 20 states. The bill specifies licensing and educational requirements, dispensary ownership requirements – 50% must be in-state residents for at least two years – and the criminal and legal penalties for those who violate them.

There is strong support from members of both parties. Rabon and Lowe are joined by Sen. Mike Lee (R-New Hanover) as primary sponsors. Triad Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance) is one of four Republicans among the bill’s 10 cosponsors, a group that also includes Democrats Gale Adcock (D-Wake), Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake), Rachel Hunt (D-Mecklenburg), Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg), Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg) and Mike Woodard (D-Durham).