Top Republicans in NC Senate Sponsors Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana

RALEIGH – Bills to legalize marijuana seem to get filed in the N.C. General Assembly every year. That’s nothing new.

But a bill to legalize (medical) marijuana sponsored by leading REPUBLICANS in the legislature? That’s remarkable.

The trend toward the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has been building for years in the United States, a reflection of cultural shifts in attitude and information about the drug. In states around the nation the movement has progressed from decriminalization and/or approval for medical use, to several states who have now outright legalized marijuana for recreational use.

North Carolina, however, has here to for been relatively far down the list of states expected to free weed from criminal cross-hairs. The Old North State’s position in the line up may be about to change, however, with Senate Bill 711. — sponsored by two Republicans in addition to several Democrats.

The legislation would decriminalize medical uses of marijuana for qualified patients with a ‘debilitating medical condition’ and that have a doctor’s note prescribing marijuana in one form or another. The bill’s text defines a debilitating medical condition as including “cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as, or comparable to, those enumerated in this subdivision, and for which a physician provides a written certification.”

Following practices on other states, the legislation prescribes a registry system for medical marijuana ID cards, where applicants that submit written certification of their condition from their physician “shall be issued” a registry card.

The bill stipulates the general age limit at 21 years old, but there are exceptions in certain circumstances.

An ‘medical marijuana supply system’ would be established and regulated by the N.C. Department of Agriculture, which will issue ‘Medical Marijuana Supplier Licences’ for growers. The initial licensing fee stands at $50,000.

If passed, the bill would necessarily stoke a budding medical marijuana industry, already flowering to some degree via the legal cultivation of hemp products (in short, cannabis without the THC). The carve out in criminal protections instantly make it a hybrid space where proper permitting will mean the difference between a profitable and legal bottom line, or jail time.

The very fine lines that separate legality from illegality have historically led to more general confusion on who can do what, and can complicate law enforcement’s incessant efforts to enforce arbitrary drug laws.

Notably, law enforcement associations have opposed the proliferation of North Carolina’s nascent hemp industry because hemp products are mostly indistinguishable from the real thing in look, smell, and composition.

That industry, though, will likely form the foundation for the ‘medical marijuana supply system’ in North Carolina should this legislation become law. The transition to growing marijuana, versus hemp, isn’t much of a transition at all, and you can bet some operations are already primed to take advantage of any legalization law.

Still, marijuana legalization has been a non-starter for years in the Republican majority legislature, and it remains to be seen if sponsorship and whipping by a prominent Republican senator will be enough to change the tide.

You can read the whole text and follow the progress of Senate Bill 711 here.

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