North Carolina House members discussed legislation to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday. Photo: Getty Images
North Carolina’s medical marijuana bill has been largely dormant since passing the state Senate in early March. But members of the state House showed signs Tuesday that they were becoming more comfortable with the Compassionate Care Act.
The bipartisan bill would allow doctors to authorize cannabis in treating more than a dozen debilitating medical condition including cancer, AIDS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A written certification from the doctor would specify the amount and dosage of the cannabis or cannabis-infused product, and the period of time for which the certification is valid.
Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), the bill’s lead sponsor, said he largely credits marijuana with helping him survive aggressive chemotherapy after being diagnosed with stage three colon cancer.
When his oncologist first recommended pot, Rabon took an unusual approach.
“I talked to my chief of police. I talked to my sheriff. I told them what was going on. I said, I’m going to have to buy drugs illegally to stay alive,” Sen. Rabon testified.
“I never bought the first drug. It appeared in my mailbox on an as needed basis.”
Rabon said he never missed a single day of work but was often so nauseated from the chemotherapy he would get sick behind his office building. At the end of each day, he would drive home and take about three puffs from a joint to allow himself some relief.
“And I did that until I completed my treatment. That’s the only reason I’m alive today,” Rabon said.
That’s the only reason I’m alive today.”
– Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick)
Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash), a combat veteran of the Iraq war, also urged his colleagues to keep an open mind.
“You guys know, particularly in the veteran community, we have now lost more veterans to suicide than we lost in the last two wars we fought. This is a personal issue for me.”
While sympathetic, Gaston County Rep. Donnie Loftis wanted more information about how marijuana might be practically prescribed.
“How does it cover a possible DUI incident, a workplace accident, an initial job interview, drug testing. How was that covered and a prescription? Is it two puffs in the morning, a joint the afternoon?”
“This would be no different than if that person were taking Oxycontin or any other drug, possibly, that was prescribed by a physician for whatever reason they may be taking it,” Rabon responded.
The label itself will have directions on it what is necessary just as any other controlled substance would have.
Rep. Mary Belk (D-Mecklenburg) questioned who can apply for the license to grow and distribute the product.
“So, what I’m trying to understand is if you apply for this license, you are going to be the manufacturer of this, you’re going to plant this, you’re going to distribute it, and you’re going to do the whole thing,” Belk said. “There’s no way that you can apply for a license that says, I’m just going to be a grower and I’m going to sell this to somebody else?”
“That’s correct,” Rabon answered. “At this time, there will be 10 licenses issued, and this will be a seed to sale operation. This is not a farming operation like growing tobacco or corn or soybeans. It’s a very tightly regulated, controlled environment, basically greenhouse environment. It’s expensive to get into, but it’s very high-tech.”
Rep. Donnie Lambeth (R- Forsyth), a leading voice for Medicaid expansion this session, said that he understands the worries that some might think cannabis could be used recreationally. To better understand how the industry might operate safely, he went on a fact-finding trip with a group of legislators to Mississippi.
“If you actually go see how well this is actually regulated and controlled, and the environment it was grown in, it gives you a different perspective,” Lambeth told the committee. “I think that helped me understand better what you’re talking about in an environment where these plants are treated and grown in a very controlled environment.
And the regulators make sure that even the dust that was on the floor had to be accounted for. There was no question about accountability and the regulation in this particular plant.”
Lambeth said he has been urged by ministers, family members and friends alike to find a way to make medical marijuana a reality in North Carolina.
“We all need to continue to learn more about it as we decide what we’re going to do with this bill.”
Corinne Gasper urged the House Health Committee to think about more than just the anecdotal benefits that had been offered. In 2012, she lost her 22-year-old daughter to a driver high on marijuana.
“We need to consider this and realize the damage it’s doing to our society,” Gasper said. “She lost her life because of a medical marijuana driver, and countless others will do the same.”
No vote was taken on Tuesday. The bill could be back before the House Health Committee in early June.
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