NC House considers medical marijuana legalization
The N.C. House took a first step Tuesday on legislation to legalize medical marijuana.
The state Senate has already approved the medical marijuana bill, but the House has so far been more reluctant to pass the measure. That appears to be changing.
The House Health Committee held its first hearing on the bill Tuesday, and while it didn’t take a vote yet, no legislators spoke against the proposal.
Medical marijuana has a powerful supporter: Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon. The Brunswick County Republican told the committee that he used marijuana to get through colon cancer treatment. His doctor recommended it even though it was illegal.
“That’s the only reason I’m alive today. There’s no science behind it, but I can tell you I know. I know that tens of thousands of people in this state would benefit just as I did," he said.
Rabon, a veterinarian, said he didn’t end up buying marijuana illegally because a supply appeared in his mailbox after he told friends he wanted to try it. He managed to get through chemotherapy treatments without missing work.
“I'd go home, I would light up a joint — or whatever you call it. I never smoked in my life, so I wasn't very good at it,” he recalled. “And I'd take about three puffs of marijuana. My symptoms would go away before you could bat your eye.”
Rabon’s bill would keep production and distribution strictly controlled. It would only be available to patients with debilitating or terminal conditions such as cancer, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder.
An appointed oversight board, called the Compassionate Use Advisory Board, would have the power to add additional conditions to the list. Doctors prescribing marijuana would be required to take a 10-hour class. Patients would be issued an ID card, and no one would be allowed inside marijuana dispensaries without a card.
The House declined to consider a similar bill last year. But Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth and a co-chair of the House Health Committee, said he became more supportive after he and several colleagues took a trip to Mississippi, a GOP-led state that has legalized medical marijuana. The group toured a facility that processes marijuana.
“The regulators make sure that even the dust that was on the floor had to be accounted for,” Lambeth said. “There was no question about accountability and the regulation in this particular plant we were in.”
Opponents of the bill worry that it’s a first step toward legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. Rabon says that’s not the case, and he pointed to states like Hawaii where medical marijuana has been legal for years without a successful push for recreational legalization.
Rep. Allen Chesser, R-Nash and an Iraq War veteran, said he’s excited about what marijuana can do for fellow veterans suffering from PTSD.
“We have now lost more veterans to suicide than we lost in the last two wars we fought, so this is a personal issue for me,” he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the House Health Committee hadn’t yet scheduled its next meeting to vote on the bill — a necessary step for it to advance through the legislative process.