North Carolina took a step toward medical cannabis legalization Wednesday when lawmakers advanced legislation through committee to permit the sale of cannabis and cannabis-infused products to patients with "debilitating medical conditions."
Some of the qualifying conditions written in the bill include cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson's disease, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more.
The legislation would establish the regulatory framework for the manufacturing, licensing, distribution and cultivation of medical cannabis in the state.
If passed, a Medical Cannabis Production Commission would issue 10 supplier licenses. The legislation would also reduce the maximum number of medical cannabis centers per supplier from eight to four and would require suppliers to pay the state 10% of the gross revenue derived from cannabis and cannabis-infused products, The Associated Press reported.
The legislation was adopted in a voice vote by Senate Judiciary Committee members, according to the AP, as the majority agreed that cannabis should be offered legally to help alleviate symptoms like pain and nausea caused by severe illnesses and diseases.
Republican Sen. Bill Rabon, bill sponsor and cancer survivor, said the bill had moved him because of his personal experience. "At times, it has been difficult for me to talk to some people about that," Rabon told the committee. "But I will say again that the time has come that this needs to be discussed, and we need to compassionately care for our fellow man in any way that we can."
In the first hearing on the bill last week, military veterans expressed their support for the measure stating that cannabis helped alleviate PTSD symptoms. Others criticized the bill for being too narrowly drawn, the AP reported.
Chris Suttle, a cannabis legalization activist, told the committee that he used cannabis when he was suffering from a brain tumor to help alleviate symptoms like swelling in his brain, according to WRAL-TV; however, he said he doesn't believe the bill would have covered his illness at the time because the tumor could not immediately be identified as cancerous.
"You call this the Compassionate Care Act. I call this an insult," Suttle said. "The number of dispensaries that you are offering is ridiculous for a state that has 100 counties. The extra regulations that you are putting on this are not fair to those that have been hurt the worst by the war on drugs."
Conservatives argued against the legislation saying it would lead to an increase in recreational use and that the effectiveness of cannabis use for medical illnesses remains uncertain, according to the AP.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, argued that "smoked marijuana is not medicine."
Republican Sen. Kathy Harrington said that she would not have supported this bill six months ago; however, her mind has changed once her husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and has been going through cancer treatments. "I believe we've already had some moments in our lives where this type of medication would have assisted," she said.
Although the measure cleared its first hurdle, it still has to pass through at least three additional panels before making it to the Senate floor. If passed, it would then head to the House of Representatives for consideration.