RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With a bill legalizing medical marijuana stalled in the state legislature, a leading Senate Republican is trying a new tactic to compel the House to take up the legislation.
Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), a cancer survivor, amended a bill the House passed unanimously earlier this year dealing with the supervision of physician assistants to say that bill would only become legal if his medical marijuana also bill becomes legal.
The NC Compassionate Care Act would allow medical marijuana with a prescription for patients with certain debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer.
“I think it’s a very important bill. And, I would like to see some movement. And, maybe some folks will kind of look up and pay attention now,” Sen. Rabon said. “We have work to be done. We don’t need to stonewall.”
Eight senators voted against the amendment, including Sen. Jim Burgin (R-Harnett) who has opposed legalizing medical marijuana.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said the bill will only come to the floor if a majority of Republicans in the House are willing to vote in favor of it, which is not currently the case.
“Any tactics that are perceived as heavy-handed, trying to force it, tend to have the opposite effect,” Speaker Moore said.
The Senate passed a similar bill last year which the House also did not act one.
The House Health Committee held a hearing on the bill a few weeks ago but has not taken any action on it.
A poll earlier this year by Meredith College found 73 percent of North Carolina voters support legalizing medical marijuana.
“I’ve made it very clear if this bill were to come to the floor, I would support the medicinal use of cannabis. I think it has the right safeguards and protections, so I’m fine with it. But, I’m not twisting my members’ arms to vote for it,” said Speaker Moore.
As the General Assembly continues to debate the issue, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is moving forward with its legal medical cannabis operation in the western part of North Carolina.
Neil Denman, executive director of the Cannabis Control Board for the EBCI, said they are now accepting applications for patient cards from all North Carolinians. Someone would have to have one of the health conditions on this list to qualify. There are more conditions covered than under the bill pending in the legislature.
The EBCI program also does not require a prescription or recommendation from a doctor.
Cannabis will only be legal to possess on tribal land and remains illegal under federal and North Carolina law.
Denman said the EBCI is hopeful the state will pass the Compassionate Care Act, as the tribe is interested in applying for one of the licenses the state would issue.
Given that the state has not legalized medical marijuana, Denman said he had hoped the state would pass another law to allow people to transport marijuana outside of tribal land but that has not happened.
“I would caution people about whether or not that’s an issue,” said Sen. Phil Berger (R-Senate President pro-Tempore).
Chris Suttle, who has lobbied lawmakers to legalize marijuana, said the state is losing money as the debate over legalization goes on.
He said he’s helping people sign up for the EBCI program as they await potential action by the General Assembly.
“The changes we need are coming whether they want them to or not. It’s in their backyard. They can’t ignore it anymore,” he said. “The time for waiting is over.”