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RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – And off to the North Carolina House of Representatives goes the first opportunity lawmakers have had to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

State Senators on Monday followed their defacto approval last week with a positive vote on the third reading of Senate Bill 711, which makes some cannabis products legal.

The measure received bipartisan support by a margin similar to an initial vote last week. The legislation creates a system whereby someone with one of more than a dozen “debilitating medical conditions” can be prescribed cannabis. Sales centers run by licensed suppliers would open.

The bill had been approved on second reading, 35-10, with eight Republicans and two Democrats – Don Davis, a candidate for Congress in the 1st Congressional District, and Julie Mayfield of Buncombe County – voting no.

Whether the House takes up this bill in this short session remains to be seen. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has not been encouraging, but the door is not completely closed. Moore has said the issue may have to wait until next year.

The public supports the addition of medical marijuana, which is available to some extent in every state except North Carolina and Nebraska.

Sen. Bill Rabon spoke Wednesday and Thursday in favor of Senate Bill 711, which he sponsored. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP, File)

The bill would allow a doctor to recommend medical marijuana products for specified conditions and maladies, with patients 18 and older being issued registry identification cards to verify their allowed use of the products. Patients younger than 18 require a more stringent approval and treatment process.

There would be licensed dealers/vendors that would be open only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and smoking prohibitions would apply. The regulations are strict.

Violators would be subject to felony prosecution. A state board would be created and appointed to oversee the process, sort of like a state board of elections. But medical marijuana – legal in some form in 48 states but not in North Carolina or Nebraska – is controversial because some fear that it’s a gateway drug like recreational marijuana is said to be, and others dispute whether it is effective in treating illnesses or simply masks symptoms for patients.

Business concerns

The vote overcame concerns that it limited business opportunities for companies in North Carolina. An amendment to address that issue was tabled last Thursday. State Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe County) told WNCN-TV that “no North Carolina company can get one of the licenses.”

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) told WNCN that “if you can control, in many respects, the distribution system in ways that are designed in the bill, I think you ameliorate some of the concerns people have about it being step one in ultimate full legalization.” 

The CBD and THC variants used in medical marijuana can be smoked, inhaled, ingested or taken under the tongue. Medical experts tout its benefits for treating glaucoma and chemotherapy, and various senators who spoke during the pre-vote debate provided examples of how it helped with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially among veterans.

WebMD also lists Alzheimer’s disease, appetite loss, various cancers, Crohn’s Disease, HIV/AIDS, MS, epilepsy and more general effects such as nausea, seizures, muscle spasms and pain. There also is a sense that CBD might help with anxiety and have a greater impact on side effects (such as chemo).

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What about the House?

State Rep. Pricey Harrison

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said she has “been working on legalizing medical cannabis for most of my 18-year legislative career. Former Rep. Earl Jones got the ball rolling before I was elected, and I joined in on his efforts once I was elected. I remain a strong supporter.”

“As to whether the House will take it up, I will have to defer to my GOP colleagues. Most if not all Democrats support it.”

Harrison said the bill will fall to Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), chair of the House Rules Committee, which includes Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett) and Rep. Amos Quick (D-Greensboro) from the Triad. “He [Hall] can count votes,” Harrison said.