RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The legalization of medical marijuana has been approved once again by the North Carolina Senate, and this time it sounds like the House may be high on the idea.
Senate Bill 3, also known as the Compassionate Care Act, passed its third and final reading on Wednesday afternoon, and now the bill is off to the House, where a similar bill last spring was snuffed out but comments have been more favorable this time around.
For the second consecutive day at the ironic hour of 4:20 p.m. – marijuana is celebrated by the number “420“ – SB 3, sponsored by Sens. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem) and Mike Lee (R-New Hanover), passed with strong bipartisan support
The 36-10 votes on both days included all Democrats. Among 10 Republicans who voted no were three from the Piedmont Triad: Joyce Krawiec (R-Kernersville), Steve Jarvis (R-Lexington) and Eddie Settle (R-Elkin). None of them responded immediately to an email seeking their reasons for those votes. There were four members absent.
SB 3, which passed through both the Judicial Committee and the Finance Committee in finding its way to the floor, 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.
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 has said, is almost identical to those he has “spent three years on.”
State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), the House majority whip, said Wednesday that the bill’s fate “remains to be seen. … I believe it has a better chance than it had last year.”
And House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) on Tuesday told The News & Observer in Raleigh that he thinks this bill has “decent prospects of passage. … Last year when we didn’t take it up, it was overwhelmingly opposed by most of the caucus,” Moore said.
He told the newspaper that in the House, with numerous new members, “attitudes have changed, and I think some folks have had an opportunity, once they were back home and met with folks, to see that there’s some potentially legitimate uses for this.”
State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) certainly is a supporter who sees that “legitimate use.” She said she has been working in support of medical marijuana since the idea was first introduced 20 years ago by former Rep. Earl Jones of Greensboro and that, when her sister died of brain cancer a few years ago, her oncologist felt strongly “that patients shouldn’t be treated as criminals.
“As far as I can tell, the bill is narrower than I would have liked, but I am grateful we might be finally pricing this much-needed relief for those who are suffering,” she said in a text message to WGHP.
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. Several amendments were added to accommodate this distribution.
“This cannabis supply system is the most tightly regulated so far in any state,” Rabon said when the bill was introduced. “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 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.
An analysis of the final version of the bill calls for implementation in 2024 and for the state to realize about $44.4 million in new revenue by 2027-28. Retail sales are expected to reach about $504.3 million by 2028-29, based on a rate of $287 per ounce to serve a projected 214,000 patients.
There would be increased costs for the Department of Health & Human Services, which would be more than $50 million by 2028-29 to create the structure for oversight and management.