RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Following a significant vote last week on a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina, advocates are trying to keep pressure on lawmakers to keep moving the bill forward as they return to Raleigh following a break.
“It’s historic,” said Chris Suttle as he stood on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill Wednesday, talking to anyone who would stop to listen to him about the issue.
Suttle has dealt with pain ever since a hit-and-run crash when he was 19.
He spends much of his time volunteering for NC NORML as the group advocates for the legalization of marijuana.
“This is my home. And, I shouldn’t have to be a criminal in my own home just so I can continue to live the kind of life that I deserve,” he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bipartisan bill last week following the first legislative hearings on medical marijuana. The bill still has to clear three more committees before coming to the full Senate for a vote.
Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), who’s a cancer survivor, is one of the bill’s primary sponsors. He told fellow legislators about his first-hand experience with chemotherapy treatments and said allowing medical marijuana would be a “compassionate” step to take to help people. Other Republican leaders in the Senate also have shown their support, signaling an increased likelihood of a bill passing eventually.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana.
A poll earlier this year by Elon University found 73 percent of North Carolina voters support legalization for medical use while 18 percent oppose that.
“We are at the point where you cannot say that the majority of your constituents would turn on you for going forward with some form of legalization,” said Suttle.
The bill would allow medical marijuana to be used by people with “debilitating medical conditions” such as cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others listed. Physicians would have to provide a written certification that a person has an eligible condition.
Ten licenses would be granted by the state to suppliers, with each supplier allowed a maximum of four sales centers.
Suttle said he wants to see that broadened to cover more conditions and also wants to see more licenses available for suppliers to ensure the greatest number of people can have access. He’s been lobbying members of the General Assembly to try to make those changes. His group also aims to run PSAs on television in the coming weeks to try to mobilize support for a bill to pass.
“The voice of the people in North Carolina is screaming that this is not the legalization we deserve for the state we love,” Suttle said.
Conservative groups including the Christian Action League and the NC Family Policy Council have spoken against the bill.
“Without question, the public health risks are immense: drug abuse and addiction, change in brain function,” Jere Royall, director of community impact and counsel for the NC Family Policy Council, told legislators during a recent hearing on the bill. The group did not respond to an interview request Wednesday. The Christian Action League declined an interview request.
The two groups are trying to mobilize people online to urge senators to vote no on the bill.
They’ve also raised concerns that the bill could be the first step toward full legalization, which Virginia has recently approved. While possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is now legal in the commonwealth, sales will not begin there until 2024.