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NC Medical Marijuana Inches Forward, Draws Criticism from Advocates 

Medical marijuana legalization inches one step closer to legalization in the South. North Carolina recently passed legislation aimed at legalizing medicinal marijuana and bringing in millions of dollars in revenue to the state. So why are some cannabis advocates against the measure?

Recently, the North Carolina Senate voted to approve a measure allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for significant and debilitating conditions like cancer and epilepsy. Some lawmakers and cannabis advocates consider it a minor win in a state that has traditionally blocked attempts to legalize marijuana. However, not everyone is convinced the new bill is the best move for North Carolina and its residents and small businesses. Is it fair to say cannabis advocates are against the push for medical legalization? The line is blurry.

North Carolina Senate Bill 3

 In a 36 to 10 vote, the North Carolina state Senate voted to approve Senate Bill 3. The bill would allow patients with debilitating medical conditions to seek relief through medical marijuana.

Senate Bill 3, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, seeks to legalize marijuana for patients with eligible medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Doctors could prescribe a specific method of delivery and dosage for patients, reviewing the individual’s eligibility annually. The measure would also allow up to ten medical marijuana suppliers to control and cultivate cannabis sales.

Unlike other states, where additional legislation would be needed to add new qualifying conditions, SB 3 would establish a Compassionate Use Advisory Board. This board would be allowed to review and add new qualifying medical conditions at its discretion. A separate body, the Medical Cannabis Production Commission, would manage cannabis supply and oversee licensing.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Rabon (R), received bipartisan support in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) noted that the legislation was well-crafted. It also addresses many of the concerns he believes his constituents have over the legalization and sale of medical marijuana.

The Good

The good news for SB 3 is that it received bipartisan support in the state Senate where Democrats and some Republicans largely agreed the measure was good for North Carolina patients. Most residents of North Carolina agree it is time for change as well. A poll conducted by Meredith College indicates nearly three in four North Carolina voters support legalizing medical marijuana in the state.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) also voiced his support for legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing cannabis possession, and tackling racial disparities in drug enforcement. In December, Governor Cooper publicly indicated that he felt medical marijuana legislation has a good chance of passing the legislature this session and making its way to his desk.

Early estimates also indicate a legalized medicinal marijuana program in North Carolina could draw as much as $15 million in state revenue in the fiscal year 2024-2025. Those numbers could balloon to as much as $44 million by the fiscal year 2027-28.

The Bad

However, not everyone believes legalizing medical marijuana is the best course of action for North Carolina. SB 3 still faces a challenge in the predominately Republican-controlled House. Similar legalization measures have traditionally stalled in the North Carolina House. Although the House is where the bill is sure to face some of its staunchest critics, some Republican lawmakers are still hopeful.

House Speaker Tim Moore (R) suggests that the new makeup of the chamber may offer a new pathway toward legalization that wasn’t there only a few years ago. He indicates new members seem more open to cannabis reform and may jump on board with legalizing cannabis for medicinal use.

The Ugly

Passing the House may be a tall order this legislative session, but SB 3 is getting some of its harshest criticism from a surprising place, cannabis business owners. While not all cannabis advocates are dismissing the merits of SB 3, there are some marijuana proponents and small business owners who oppose the measure.

Some advocates traditionally supportive of legalizing medicinal marijuana are critical of the bill’s limited scope. Currently, the measure would legalize medicinal marijuana for patients diagnosed with medical conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Notably off that list, critics say, are chronic pain, nausea, and anxiety. Studies indicate that cannabis may be an effective treatment for chronic pain and lower the number of individuals relying on highly addictive opiates. Some advocates suggest leaving these conditions out of the measure is a mistake. However, with SB 3, there will be the option of the Advisory Board adding more qualifying conditions.

Some small business owners also say the measure could negatively impact their business model, removing products from their shelves and taking them out of people’s hands. There is also worry that fees and taxes from legalized medicinal cannabis could drive up prices of already-legal hemp products.

It should be noted that some of the most vocal opponents of SB 3 are the owners of shops that currently sell hemp-based products. Some small business owners worry that competition from legal medicinal cannabis could reduce demand for legal hemp products containing small amounts of CBD and THC. By law, hemp cannot have more than .03% of THC to be legal in North Carolina.

It is unclear how legalizing medicinal marijuana may impact hemp cultivators and business owners in the state. Hemp-derived products typically do not have the same potency or THC levels as products from cannabis plants. Additionally, hemp plants do not always contain the same cannabinoids found in cannabis plants.

The Future of Medical Legalization in North Carolina

There are concerns that SB 3 doesn’t go far enough to include patients diagnosed with medical conditions that may benefit from cannabis consumption. Hemp-focused business owners may also be concerned that legalization could diminish their profits. These are valid concerns that are worthy of discussion. However, patients with crippling medical conditions and other cannabis advocates continue to support meaningful debate and conversations surrounding cannabis legalization in North Carolina.

Perhaps the potential passage of SB 3 could open up more communication about cannabis legalization in the state and blaze new trails in the industry.


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