North Carolina medical cannabis bill passes another committee vote

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

North Carolina is edging ever-closer to medical cannabis. After a second review of Senate Bill 711 A.K.A. “The Compassionate Care Act” on Thursday, August 26, the Senate Judiciary committee approved the bill.

The legal framework contains refreshed oversight language that will pave the way for regulations “like nothing we’ve seen in the rest of the country” words according to Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, who is a proud sponsor of North Carolina’s medical cannabis bill.

Despite the slight revisions, SB711 maintains its original goal: to legalize prescription cannabis for a broad spectrum of medical conditions, such as cancer, nausea, end-of-life pain, multiple sclerosis (MS) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Before it can receive a full-chamber vote on the Senate floor, SB711 must be cleared by one more committee. Even though numerous social conservatives are opposing the measure, it is finding solid ground in various committees, suggesting that the bill may be approved by the full Senate and could progress to the House for further discussion.

Critics are slightly concerned about North Carolina’s medical cannabis bill

During the recently held Senate Health committee, the bill’s sponsors explained how just 10 suppliers will be allowed to launch four dispensaries. Eventually, this will likely result in legalization, say committee members.

According to Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, who assumes his position alongside Republican leaders in the Senate, the bill is “not about patients… this is about placing North Carolina on a path.”

Then again, lawmakers listened to pleas from patients who explained how cannabis has assisted them in overcoming the symptoms of various debilitating diseases, pain conditions and trauma. In response to this, Hise feels that people are trying to sway lawmakers’ decisions on legalization by using “those who are suffering from these serious diseases to further their agenda.”

Lee noted that North Carolina’s medical cannabis initiative aims to broaden access to medicine, as opposed to fully legalizing the plant. There are many individuals who understand how medical cannabis “works for them and improves their quality of life,” he added.

An overview of North Carolina’s medical cannabis bill

If SB 711 is enacted into law, North Carolina’s doctors could prescribe cannabis for the following medical conditions:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cachexia or wasting syndrome
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease (PD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Severe/persistent nausea “related to end-of-life or hospice care.”
  • Terminal illness (life expectancy below six months)
  • Conditions that result in hospice care.

The bill also permits the list’s expansion under the control of a “Compassionate Use Advisory Board.” Moreover, an amended rule stipulates that dispensary employees should be aged 21 and above.

The shops which shouldn’t visibly display cannabis products and related paraphernalia will be allowed to open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Each store must be situated at least 1,000 feet from churches, schools, child care facilities and community colleges or public universities.

In order to apply for a supplier license, applicants must be willing to pay an upfront fee of $50,000, as well as an annual renewal fee of $10,000. 

Numerous lawmakers believe that the fee should be increased, so as to reduce the risk(s) of license-holders reselling their licenses. On previous occasions, licenses have been sold between states for millions of dollars.

Sen. Joyce Kraviec, R-Forsyth, described the existing license fees featured in the bill as “extremely low.”