RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Advocates for legalizing marijuana urged state lawmakers on Thursday to act on the issue before the end of the legislative session, though the Senate’s Republican leader says there still isn’t support among his party’s members to do that.
Members of NC NORML are lobbying for the state to legalize medical marijuana, with the goal of eventually legalizing it for recreational use as well.
“It’s a matter of educating,” said Janis Ramquist. “I have several family members that have conditions that don’t respond well to current prescription drugs, or the drugs are more dangerous than cannabis.”
A poll earlier this year by Elon University found 73 percent of North Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medical use while 18 percent oppose it. When asked if people support legalizing it for recreational purposes, 54 percent said yes while 34 percent oppose that.
“It’s been way too long that the people that are suffering from chronic conditions and a number of other situations that could be treated by medicinal cannabis have been forced to suffer in the dark,” said Chris Suttle.
A bill filed by Democrats in the House of Representatives would decriminalize up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana.
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said Thursday that he received emails about that bill.
“My sense is that there’s more support for decriminalization of some marijuana than in the past. I really don’t see the support for legalizing the use of recreational or medicinal quite frankly,” he said. “I do think that public sentiment on that has been changing over the past few years.”
A racial equity task force formed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has recommended the state decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and study legalization.
The Senate passed a bill Thursday increasing criminal penalties for illegal possession of fentanyl, which has been attributed to the increase in opioid overdoses during the pandemic.
Ramquist pointed to research from other states that have legalized marijuana showing lower rates of overdoses compared to other states.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Virginia’s legislature recently voted in favor of legalization starting in 2024.
However, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is now calling on possession to become legal on July 1, with sales being legal in 2024.
Thirty-six states have legalized marijuana for medical uses, according to NCSL.
Sen. Tom McInnis (R-25th District) said he opposes legalizing it for recreational uses but when asked about medical use he said, “Oh, that’s a different story. It’s got to be researched. It’s got to be proven. I want to see the data. I don’t want to see somebody’s opinion. I want to see the hard data. But, the recreational marijuana, no way.”