RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A bill to legalize marijuana for medical use in North Carolina may not get a vote until next year, lawmakers said this week as the state budget and the redistricting process have become the primary issues being worked on in the final months of the year.
Lawmakers in the Senate held multiple hearings in recent months on the bill, but those advocating for it to pass say there are still some issues with it they’re trying to resolve before moving forward with a vote.
“There’s far more moving parts to this thing than I thought there was when we began,” said Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth), who is part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsoring the bill. “We want to make sure we get it right.”
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said while a final decision has not been made, the bill may not be on the Senate floor until lawmakers return to Raleigh for next spring’s session.
“We continue to need to look at the wording of the bill, experiences that other states have had,” he said.
As it stands, the bill would allow marijuana to be used for specified “debilitating medical conditions” such as cancer, epilepsy and PTSD. There would be limits on the time of day it could be sold, how close a medical cannabis center could be to schools or churches and a limit of 10 licenses to suppliers who could open up to four medical cannabis centers.
Sen. Lowe said senators have had discussions with Democratic Atty. Gen. Josh Stein’s office as well as they try to resolve concerns.
Stein said earlier this year he supports the concept of legalizing marijuana for medical use, but also cautioned that the state needs to be mindful
“A lot of other states legalized medical marijuana and then they legalized adult use and the two regulatory regimes did not mesh,” he said. “If North Carolina does go forward with medical marijuana, I want to make sure that it does so in the smartest, most protective way possible.”
Some Republican lawmakers are opposed to the bill because they’re concerned ultimately it would be the first step toward full legalization, which Virginia has done.
“I think they use those who are suffering from these serious diseases as an opportunity to further their agenda,” Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell County) said during a hearing last month.
Chris Suttle advocates for legalizing marijuana and started CIC Consultants, which stands for Change Is Coming. He said it could benefit people like him dealing with chronic medical conditions.
“No bill is perfect,” he said. “It doesn’t matter the reasons behind the delays as much as it matters that we don’t lose the passion, we don’t lose the fight and the energy that we’ve always had going forward.”
Garrett Perdue, CEO of Root Bioscience and one of the founding members of N.C. Families for Medical Cannabis, said “time is the issue” when it comes to the possibility of a vote occurring this year.
The state’s budget is still unresolved almost three months into the current fiscal year, and lawmakers are traveling the state holding public hearings on redistricting as they prepare to draw district maps for the 2022 elections.
“While disappointing it is heartening to see the quality of the conversation taking place,” said Perdue, whose company sells various CBD products.
He said even if the bill does pass the Senate, he expects there to be significant issues to resolve in the House, such as the number of conditions that qualify, the number of access points across the state and whether the bill makes it hard for NC-based businesses to get licenses.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states have legalized cannabis products for medical use. Virginia has legalized marijuana for recreational use as well, with sales expected to begin in 2024.