RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As the state Senate prepared on Monday to take a final vote on a bill to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina, some business owners raised concerns that the restrictions would leave them out of an emerging industry.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill after giving initial approval last Thursday by a vote of 35-10.
Nicolette Baglio, who owns Citizen Bloom Botanics in Asheville and sells a variety of hemp-based products, said the bill’s licensing structure would shut out North Carolina growers, manufactures and retailers.
The bill calls for a state commission to approve 10 licenses for suppliers who would also own and operate medical cannabis centers across the state.
“It hands the incoming industry to 10 out-of-state large corporations,” she said. “It’s pretty common in the industry that about 80 percent of businesses that get into hemp early do it to plow the way and put the training wheels on for their business to be able to add marijuana to their business model once it’s legalized.”
Republicans who’ve pushed for the bill have trumpeted the restrictive nature of it as a selling point, recognizing that some people remain wary of the state eventually moving to full legalization.
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), who voted in favor of the bill last week, told reporters after that he “understands the argument” that people like Baglio are making.
“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,” he said.
Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe), who voted against the bill last week, attempted to amend it to require that more growers and others in the hemp industry be able to get licenses.
“No North Carolina company can get one of the licenses,” she said. “We are doing that at the expense of a lot of homegrown North Carolina businesses.”
Once the bill passes the Senate, its fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has shown no interest in tackling the issue during the remaining weeks of the legislature’s short session.
“That (bill) has just kind of been thrown down. And, I don’t see an appetite to take that up in the short session. As far as long session, I won’t say one way or the other,” Moore said.
Baglio said her focus is shifting to the House as she attempts to push for changes in the final version of the bill.
“It is considered by the industry as probably the most restrictive piece of legislation that the nation has seen so far,” she said. “There are thousands of businesses already here that are perfectly qualified to follow regulations that are put in place but not if they don’t have the chance.”