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RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – A bill to legalize cannabis products for medical prescriptions has been passed to a second committee in the North Carolina Senate.

Senate Bill 3 – the “Compassionate Care Act” – was passed in a voice vote Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and next will be considered by the Finance Committee as the issue winds its way toward a floor vote with significant bipartisan support.

If you recall, SB 711 was passed last spring by the Senate but never got a sniff from the House. This bill, which picked up a handful of amendments on Tuesday, is pretty much the same as its cousin.

SB3 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. The amendments approved unanimously all dealt with prescription language, process and policing of violations.

The changes would give priority to suppliers who commit to distributing centers across the state, as had been discussed in the original discussions. There is a desire to put those centers in counties where there is less financial stability.

Its bipartisan trio of sponsors, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-New Hanover), helped walk the bill through that process and passage. If the bill gets through Finance, the Rules/Calendar Committee would be its last stop before consideration by the full Senate. It’s unclear when those steps might be taken.

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 last week when introducing the bill. “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.

The bill has widespread support among both parties. 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).

As in earlier meetings, a few members of the public spoke against the bill, a couple suggesting medical marijuana’s value is unproven, but others were in favor, including one who for the second time spoke on behalf of veterans who suffer from PTSD.

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

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.

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, 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.

“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.”