RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A bill to approve medical marijuana cleared its first major hurdle in North Carolina this week.
Senate Bill 711 would allow marijuana for people with qualified medical conditions. It would also limit the number of dispensaries allowed in North Carolina and put a 10-percent tax on marijuana products that would go to the state.
Marijuana legislation has never made it this far before and experts said part of the reason it is now is due to the backing of a major Republican name and having more states, like Virginia, recently approving marijuana legislation.
SB 711 still has a long way to go, but its passing on Wednesday meant a lot to people like Samuel Roberts.
For nearly a decade, Roberts served in the military, spending some of that time overseas as an infantry soldier. But when he returned to the U.S., he struggled with anxiety and PTSD.
“During my time there, I saw things and experienced things that changed me, some of you can’t imagine them,” Roberts said. “I dug a hole. I actually dug my grave. I intended to use my weapon to end my life.”
He searched for help.
Then, a fellow veteran offered him marijuana.
“I was very much against it, but I was desperate enough to do it, and I’m so much better for it,” Roberts said.
He said it has made him a better father, husband and person.
Now, Roberts hopes to see SB 711 pass in North Carolina in hopes of helping others like him.
But not everyone is on board.
“Without question, the public health risks are immense,” a North Carolinian during public comment on Wednesday said. “Drug abuse and addiction, change in brain function (and) lung disease.”
Still, the bill made it through its first committee.
However, it has three more to pass through before making it to the Senate and House floors.
“The more other states do this, the more likely it is going to happen in North Carolina and we’ve seen that on other issues, too,” senior political analyst Mitch Kokai said.
Political experts said though SB 711 could have a good chance of making it past the Senate because North Carolina Republican Senator Bill Rabon is backing it. Rabon currently has a powerful position as the Rules Chairman.
Additionally, they continued, that SB 711 could then be used as a bargaining chip by the House during budget negotiations.
“I’d say this is going to be one of the issues that’s going to be resolved very late in the legislative session, which would mean probably later in the summer,” Kokai said.
CBS 17 reached out to the Governor’s Office early Wednesday but Gov. Roy Cooper will view the bill more in-depth as it moves further through the process.
Furthermore, 36 states in the country have laws allowing medical marijuana.
Sponsors of SB 711 said it would be the strictest one in the country.