North Carolina took another step toward finally legalizing medical cannabis on Thursday, with members of the state Senate overwhelmingly passing a bill that would authorize the treatment for a host of ailments and conditions.
The measure passed the chamber on a vote of 35-10, according to the News & Observer newspaper.
It now heads to the state House of Representatives. Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. The state’s governor, Roy Cooper, is a Democrat.
The bill, officially known as the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, would authorize medical cannabis for individuals with the following qualifying conditions: Cancer; Epilepsy; Positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS); Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); Crohn’s disease; Sickle cell anemia; Parkinson’s disease; Post-traumatic stress disorder, subject to evidence that an applicant experienced one or more traumatic events; Multiple sclerosis; Cachexia or wasting syndrome; Severe or persistent nausea in a person who is not pregnant that is related to end-of-life or hospice care, or who is bedridden or homebound because of a condition; a terminal illness when the patient’s remaining life expectancy is less than six months; or a condition resulting in the individual receiving hospice care.
Per the News & Observer, “Democrats have asked for even broader legalization, putting forward a number of suggestions ranging from adding additional ailments to the list of covered medical conditions, to passing more sweeping laws, like decriminalization or even full recreational legalization of cannabis,” but “Republicans shot those proposals down.”
Eight of the 10 votes against the bill were Republicans, according to the News & Observer, among them state Sen. Jim Burgin, who “invoked some of the previous fights against tobacco—which remains one of North Carolina’s biggest crops, including in Burgin’s district—and implied that the bill was hypocritical because of that.”
“We’ve spent billions of dollars and passed numerous laws to stop people from smoking,” Burgin said, as quoted by the News & Observer. “We’re now voting on a new version of Big Tobacco.”
The bill’s sponsor is GOP state Sen. Bill Rabon, who has sought to assuage concerns of his fellow Republicans by arguing that the bill will create the most restrictive medical cannabis law in the United States.
“We think we’ve done the right thing. We think that every provision from start to finish has been well thought out, well laid out, and put before you,” Rabon said prior to the vote on Thursday, as quoted by local television station WITN.
As quoted by the News & Observer, Rabon said that lawmakers in North Carolina “have looked at other states, the good and the bad.”
“And we have, if not perfected, we have done a better job than anyone so far,” he said, according to the newspaper.
More than a dozen states have legalized recreational pot use for adults, and a majority have legalized medical cannabis.
But in North Carolina, neither are legal, despite there being broad support for both.
A poll in April found that 72% of voters in the Tar Heel State believe that medical cannabis should be legal. The same poll found that 57% of voters in North Carolina believe that recreational cannabis should be legal, as well.
A spokesperson for Cooper, the Democratic governor, said last year that he would be inclined to support a medical cannabis bill that was under consideration by North Carolina lawmakers at the time.
“Studies have shown medical marijuana can offer many benefits to some who suffer from chronic conditions, particularly veterans, and the Governor is encouraged that North Carolina might join the 36 other states that have authorized it for use. The Governor will review this bill as it moves through the legislative process,” the spokesperson said.
The bill that passed the state Senate on Thursday could face some tough sledding in the state House, where “House Speaker Tim Moore has expressed that he won’t take it up for a vote,” according to WITN.
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