About seven out of 10 North Carolina voters support legalizing medical marijuana, and a plurality favors letting adults access cannabis for recreational use, according to a new poll.
The survey from WNCT, The Hill and Emerson College found that 68 percent of voters believe marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes—a finding that comes as lawmakers have stalled on a Senate reform bill that cleared three committees last year.
Only 19 percent of respondents said they were against medical cannabis legalization.
With respect to adult-use marijuana policy, voters are largely divided, with 48 percent in favor of the broader reform and 43 percent against it. That’s a slight drop from the last time the survey put that question to voters.
But as election seasons nears, it stands to reason that more lawmakers might take special notice of the poll’s results on medical cannabis. The survey involved interviews with 1,047 general election registered voters in the state from April 2-4, with a +/-3 percentage point margin of error.
Sen. Bill Rabon (R)’s bill to achieve the medical cannabis policy change is still in play this session, but it hasn’t seen action since August. After advancing through three committees, it was re-referred to the Senate Rules and Operations Committee, which is chaired by the sponsor.
It’s not clear if or when the Compassionate Care Act will get to the floor. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) said in September that he didn’t expect the bill to be taken up until this spring, though he added at the time that no final decisions had been made and he felt that lawmakers still needed to examine the language and experiences of other states.
Rabon, for his part, also said in September that the bill is “not quite ready,” and legislators are “working diligently on perfecting it as much as possible.”
However, House Speaker Tim Moore (R) recently cast doubts on the prospects of Senate passage of the measure. He said last month that he’d be “surprised if it even comes over to the House from the Senate,” adding that he doesn’t believe the bill has the votes to pass in his chamber.
The current version of the legislation would allow patients to access cannabis if they have a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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Patients could possess up to one and a half ounces of marijuana, but home cultivation would not be permitted.
Smoking and vaping would be allowed, but doctors would need to prescribe a specific method of delivery and dosages for patients under the revised legislation. And they would need to reevaluate patients’ eligibility for the program at least once a year.
The bill provides for up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers who control the cultivation and sale of cannabis. Each supplier can operate up to four dispensaries.
Under the bill, a Compassionate Use Advisory Board would be established, and it could add new qualifying medical conditions.
Separately, a Medical Cannabis Production Commission would be created to ensure that there’s an adequate supply of cannabis for patients, oversee licensing and generate enough revenue to regulate the program.
Advocates are still hoping to see further revisions to expand the proposed program and promote social equity.
The measure would further create a North Carolina Cannabis Research Program to “undertake objective, scientific research regarding the administration of cannabis or cannabis-infused products as part of medical treatment.”
There are also protections for patients included in the latest version. It stipulates that employees and agents of the state must treat possession of cannabis for qualified patients the same as any other prescribed controlled substance.
Further, the bill includes limitations on where marijuana can be smoked or vaped, and includes restrictions on the locations and hours of operation for medical cannabis businesses. It also allows regulators to place a “limitation on the number of written certifications a physician may issue at any given time.”
A task force convened by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) backed decriminalization as part of a series of policy recommendations on racial equity that were released in 2020. The group also said prior cannabis convictions should be expunged and the state should consider whether to more broadly legalize marijuana.
Under current law, possessing more than half an ounce up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis is a class 1 misdemeanor, subject to up to 45 days imprisonment and a $200 fine. In 2019, there were 3,422 such charges and 1,909 convictions, with 70 percent of those convicted being nonwhite.
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