Medical cannabis clears North Carolina Senate

A measure to legalize cannabis use by terminally ill patients in North Carolina passed the state Senate late Monday, but the measure has little to no chance of being heard in the House where there are not enough Republican supporters to pass it this Session.

The House is expected to take up the issue Tuesday.

After some debate and several amendments, House Bill 563 passed 36-10. For it to land on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, the measure must pass the House, where Speaker Tim Moore has said it will not get a vote because it does not have enough backing to pass. 

The controversial proposal to legalize medical marijuana in the state is championed by Republican Sen. Bill Rabon, a cancer survivor who added the Compassionate Care Act to another bill regulating hemp products in the state. Rabon passionately advocated giving dying patients access to the palliative effects of cannabis he enjoyed when battling potentially life-threatening disease.  

While most lawmakers agreed that medical cannabis was a worthy outcome, the bill sparked some heated debate on the Senate floor, where opponents worried the measure would set the state on a slippery slope to legalizing recreational cannabis. 

“Any condition, ladies and gentlemen, is fair game for treatment under this bill as it is written,” said Sen. Tom McInnis, a Republican representing Cumberland and Moore counties. “Paralyzed gonorrhea, broken heart, anything that that group says is going to be okay. So it’s just a precursor to the legalization of recreational marijuana. I hope you’ll look long and hard at this piece of legislation, ladies and gentlemen. I have no doubt that the bill sponsor is well intended. But as my mother used to say ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ and therefore I cannot support this bill in its current form.”

In an effort to win over detractors, the bill sponsor offered an amendment that would prohibit the drug from ever becoming legal for recreational use without the General Assembly green-lighting such a measure. 

Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, a Democrat representing Mecklenburg County, pointed out that the amendment likely would violate the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which holds that federal law trumps state law. Therefore, if cannabis were to become legal at the federal level, it automatically would under state law, Muhammad said. The amendment passed, which was enough for Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican representing a swath of the mountainous west. 

“All this bill does is allow the use of that for identified diagnosis from a medical provider. And that in and of itself is not something I oppose,” Hise said. “But don’t take this as a step away from fighting the impact of marijuana on our kids and on our communities. I think some of that’s balanced with what we’re doing.” 

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