JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — N.C. Senate Bill 711, or the Compassionate Care Act, would legalize medical marijuana for patients with chronic illnesses. The bill’s last movement was on Aug. 26. 

If the bill gets passed, it would join the other 36 states in the country where medical marijuana is legal. But this moment can’t come soon enough for one Jacksonville veteran. 

“You know, and never in 15 years in the Marine Corps, the thought really never even crossed my mind that that would necessarily be an option. Until you know, the pain got real,” said USMC Ret. SSgt. George J. Papastrat. 

Papastrat medically retired from the Marine Corps in 2016. He has back issues that led him to get a lumbar fusion. He ultimately ended up taking opioids for his pain just to be able to function. 

“I was taking opioids on active duty, and then for about three or four years after the fusion, I was taking opioid pain relievers, and that was just to make it so I could stand up, sit down are two daily tasks with my children,” said Papastrat. 

Originally from New York, where medical marijuana is legal, he decided to try cannabis. He says that it worked for him. Now he is in North Carolina, where it is illegal. 

He has been sending out his story to lawmakers in hopes that they see where he and others in a comparable situation are coming from.  

“We’re not talking about letting people run around and do drugs. I’m a local business owner veteran that stayed here and supports my community. And I’m just asking for a fair shake of something other than an opioid.” 

SMC Ret. SSgt. George J. Papastrat

If the bill gets passed, there would be limits on the time of day it could be sold and where the businesses would be located. 

Some N.C. Republican lawmakers argue this bill could be the first step towards full legalization of marijuana in North Carolina.

“I think they use those who are suffering from these serious diseases as an opportunity to further their agenda,” Sen. Ralph Hise said. 

9OYS spoke with one lawmaker who sponsors the bill. He says he is optimistic about it being passed.  

“One of the main reasons is one of the primaries, you got two of the primary sponsors of Republicans. That hasn’t happened before,” said N.C. Sen. Paul Lowe. “And they are the majority party in the North Carolina General Assembly. So that’s going to make a primary difference.” 

Lowe also said even though it may not get passed as quickly as some would like for it to, he wants veterans like Papastrat to know he and other lawmakers are still fighting for it.