RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A bipartisan group in the state Senate is trying again this year to pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana, as new polling this week shows popular support.
A Senate committee on Wednesday discussed the NC Compassionate Care Act, which is largely similar to a bill the chamber passed last year but that the House never considered.
“There’s hardly a family in this state or in this nation that hasn’t been touched at some point by someone who would benefit from this bill,” said Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), a cancer survivor who has been working for years to try to build support for the measure.
The bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder. An advisory board would be established that could add conditions that would qualify.
A poll this week by Meredith College found 73 percent of voters support legalizing medical marijuana while 15 percent oppose it and 12 percent said they were unsure.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana.
Some Republicans who voted against the bill last year said they were concerned it would be a step toward full legalization. The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, urged them to vote no again.
“There is no consensus by qualified medical expert organizations that marijuana is medicine,” he said.
Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe) supports legalizing marijuana but was one of two Democrats to vote against the bill last year. She remains concerned that the bill is too restrictive.
It authorizes the state to issue up to 10 licenses to suppliers who could operate no more than eight medical cannabis centers. Mayfield thinks it would shut out people working in North Carolina’s growing hemp industry.
“I have a lot of hemp growers in my district. And, from my perspective, those are the people who literally plowed the ground to get North Carolina ready for medical marijuana and recreational marijuana,” she said. “Many of them want to transition into that, and this would inhibit their ability to do that.”
Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) also questioned why chronic pain is not included in the list of medical conditions that would qualify, noting that marijuana could be an alternative for some people to opioids.
Rabon said he expects the bill to undergo further changes once it gets to the House.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to discuss the bill again next Tuesday.