RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Members of at least one committee of the North Carolina Senate appear to remain high on the concept of medical marijuana.

Senate Bill 3 – the “Compassionate Care Act” – went through a first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to reinforce that it is pretty much the same as SB 711, which passed the Senate last spring but never was taken up by the House.

The bill would allow for the prescription availability of cannabis as provided by a specially certified physician for certain maladies such as Aids/HIV, ALS and PTSD for which cannabis is known to provide relief.

Its bipartisan trio of sponsors, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-New Hanover), spoke about the details in the bill, which also outlines the process for licensing cannabis providers, how and where marijuana can be consumed and reinforces the criminal charges that could be in place.

Sen. Bill Rabon is the author of the medical marijuana bill. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP, File)

“I’ve spent three years on this bill,” Rabon said. “Hopefully this will be the last year. The only change in existing state law is to protect patients and their doctors from criminal charges and penalties and not change laws governing marijuana for non-medical purposes.”

Lee said that he thinks the bill “has gone through 200 committee hearings” over the past few years.

Rabon and Lee certainly had the support of every member of the committee who spoke in the hearing. Several took a moment to praise them for their thoroughness and perseverance.

“I think it will benefit a lot of people in this state,” Sen. Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake) told the sponsors.

A few members of the public spoke against the bill, mostly suggesting medical marijuana’s value is unproven, but others were in favor, including one who spoke on behalf of veterans who suffer from PTSD.

State Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem)

The bill is scheduled to be heard again by the committee next Tuesday, when amendments are expected to be considered before a vote. One of those possible amendments was mentioned during discussions because it would confirm that there would be cannabis markets in each county.

The bill calls for 10 licensed dealers for the various approved cannabis products, and each of those can have up to eight outlets. Those numbers might need to be addressed to reach saturation across all 100 counties.

“This cannabis supply system is the most tightly regulated so far in any state,” Rabon said. “It covers seed to sale. … It’s necessary for quality control … so we know every single product and we can trace it where it started to where it was processed and who was prescribed to have it.”

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

“I would say this is a fine bill,” Lowe said. “I solicit your support. The main thing we are trying to do by offering this bill is offering the people of North Carolina some help. I think this bill does that. It doesn’t do everything, but it does that.”