RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The North Carolina Senate is scheduled to vote this week whether to legalize medical marijuana, and House leaders say there’s growing support this year for getting a bill to the governor to sign.
The bill the Senate will consider, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a variety of debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, and PTSD.
Ahead of the vote, a group of Black farmers came to the Legislative Building urging lawmakers to do more to make it possible for smaller farms and local growers to participate.
“We’re absolutely shut out,” said Moses Matthews, founder and managing partner of Hemp Gen LLC in Williamston. “Black farmers and landowners in eastern North Carolina, and really across the state, have a vested interest in being able to participate in the cannabis industry.”
Matthews is concerned about the way in which the industry would be regulated. The bill calls for the state to issue up to 10 licenses to suppliers, who would then be allowed to open as many as eight medical cannabis centers across the state. Matthews worries that structure will benefit larger companies at the expense of people like him who got into the hemp industry with the goal of transitioning into cannabis when it becomes legal.
“If we don’t get in now, talking about small growers, talking about Black farmers, then there won’t be a conversation when the expansion comes,” said Marcus Bass of Advance Carolina.
Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), a cancer survivor who has been working for several years to try to build support for legalization, says the tightly controlled nature of the program he’s trying to put in place is a selling point of the bill.
“It’s difficult to do because of the constraints and because of probably the expense of getting into the business in this controlled environment, seed-to-sale, and really being able to track these products as they’re manufactured and distributed,” he said when asked about farmers’ concerns.
Some opponents to legalization have urged lawmakers to vote against the measure, saying there’s insufficient scientific evidence to support the medicinal use of marijuana.
“It’s like using ivermectin to treat COVID. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence but the claims have not stood the test of scientific scrutiny,” the Rev. Mark Creech told a Senate committee last week.
The Republican-led Senate passed a similar bill last year, but Republican leaders in the House were unwilling to consider it. Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said at that point a majority of his caucus opposed the idea.
However, Moore says with a new group of lawmakers having been elected last year and some returning legislators changing their minds about the issue, he does believe a bill could get through the House.
“I would say it’s got decent prospects of passage,” Moore said. “The biggest thing is making sure that isn’t just some backdoor way to bring in recreational use of it, that it actually requires the supervision and monitoring of a physician.”
An analysis by non-partisan legislative staff found the bill would generate about $44 million in revenue annually for North Carolina starting in the 2027-28 fiscal year.
Moore said a key concern for him is addressing accessibility and availability.
“Having enough distributors, if you will, that can prescribe that you don’t have some sort of monopoly there of some kind. But, at the same time not just throwing the door wide open where you have these things literally on every street corner,” he said. “The biggest complaint that I’ve heard from states who have done it is the proliferation of distribution sites.”