RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – General Assembly leaders say they expect to revisit the issue of whether to legalize medical marijuana during next year’s legislative session, but it’s unclear if a bill will ultimately make it to the governor’s desk.
During this year’s session, the state Senate passed the NC Compassionate Care Act in a 36-7 vote. It would legalize medical marijuana for a list of specified conditions and establishes licensing fees for a limited number of suppliers.
While the bill got bipartisan support, Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives never considered it in a committee or brought it up for a vote.
Following this year’s election, which will bring more than two dozen new members to the House, Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said he expects the issue will come up again but added that he’s uncertain whether the outcome will be different.
“I can tell you under the prior caucus there was not the votes, there was not the support at all in there for that. I don’t know where these new members are,” he said. “It is something that seems to be happening more and more around the country.”
Chris Suttle, a cancer survivor who has advocated for the state to legalize marijuana, said he thinks the support exists to pass a bill, especially as more states take that step. He compared the situation to when North Carolina approved the state lottery.
“North Carolina basically had to look and say all right, we’re losing hundreds of millions of tax dollars to people that are driving sometimes only an hour-and-a-half across state lines to buy lottery tickets. It’s going to be the same thing,” he said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical uses. Meanwhile, 21 states and D.C. have legalized it for recreational use. Maryland and Missouri became the latest states to join that list when voters in those states approved that in November.
Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), also a cancer a survivor and one of the primary sponsors of the Senate’s legalization bill, argued at the time it passed that it would be one of the strictest laws in the country while offering some relief to those with serious medical conditions.
“This bill is going to, in my opinion, help a lot of people at the end of their life,” he said during the floor debate.
Some opponents of the bill said they were worried it would ultimately be the first step toward full legalization.
Suttle said he thought the bill was too restrictive in terms of which conditions would qualify and said he thinks the state should lower licensing fees as well as make more licenses available to potential suppliers.
“They’re pretty much just throwing up a soft pitch for corporations and not independent farmers and not people that could really benefit from this,” said Suttle.
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said he expects new legislation regarding marijuana to be filed after the session begins in January. He said he has not talked with other Republicans yet about what order they plan to take up key issues next year.