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  • D.H. Reilly

Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, but House Looks Poised to Kill It

It looks like North Carolina patients may once again be the bridesmaids and not the bride when it comes to treating qualifying conditions with medical marijuana.

We told you that SB 711, the Compassionate Care Act, looked like it would clear the Senate and head to the House. And indeed, that’s exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, it now appears that SB 711 is dead until at least 2023, as the House has opted to support a competing medical marijuana bill. Making matters even worse, the bill they passed won’t actually create a medical marijuana market here. The bill instead appears to be designed to create the illusion of progress without actually responding to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Tar Heels and bringing medical cannabis to North Carolina.

When Is a Medical Marijuana Bill not Really a Medical Marijuana Bill? When the North Carolina House Passes it

Senate Bill 448 was passed by the House on June 8, and will now go to Governor Roy Cooper’s desk. If he signs it into law, North Carolina will decriminalize any THC medications that gain FDA approval, which would include medical marijuana should the FDA ever recognize it as medicine.

That certainly sounds good, and the lack of FDA approval has often been used by medical marijuana critics to argue against legalizing a safe, natural, effective medication. Unfortunately, that argument is disingenuous, as is SB 448, because lawmakers are well aware that the FDA can’t recognize marijuana as medicine.

Heads They Win, Tails You Lose

For one example of a state lawmaker invoking this flawed argument, consider Senator Ralph Hise, of Spruce Pine, and his comments during a debate in that chamber over SB 711.

Hise argued that North Carolina lawmakers should defer to experts, and not recognize cannabis as medicine until the FDA determines that it is. “We’re all supposed to say, ‘Look, they’re the scientists,’” Hise said. “Well, where are the FDA recommendations on medical marijuana?”

But as a lawmaker, Hise had to know that because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, the FDA, a federal agency, legally cannot make recommendations about marijuana. Unless, of course, Hine wasn’t being disingenuous but was rather just ignorant of how the law works.

Which would you feel better about, North Carolina? A disingenuous lawmaker who caters to his base and denies you a safe, effective medicine you overwhelmingly want for specious reasons, or an ignorant one who doesn’t understand how the laws he creates for you are supposed to work?

Anti-Cannabis Lawmakers Tip Their Hand to Reveal Disingenuousness

We’ve pointed out before that the “We shouldn’t legalize medical marijuana until the FDA recognizes it” argument runs counter to the supposed small government, states’ rights ideologies so often espoused by the Republican lawmakers who use that particular excuse to deny North Carolinians medicine.

As if to rub it in, one of those lawmakers, Larry Pitman, of Cabarrus, “proposed an amendment to say ‘marijuana shall not be legalized’ in North Carolina regardless of federal action,” and used his supposed belief in small government to justify it.

“If we're going to just say, ‘Whatever the FDA does or whatever the federal government does, we're going to just go along with it,’ I'm sorry. I have problems with that,” Pitman said. “I'm a states' rights person, and I think the states are primary, not the federal government. We don't just do whatever they do.”

So waiting for FDA approval is small government, but saying you believe in ignoring your constituents’ will once/if the FDA approves is also small government.

OK. Sure.

But as Representative Pat McElraft pointed out, this argument is doubly disingenuous, because SB 448 says that North Carolina will legalize any THC medication approved by the FDA, so long as the state’s Commission for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse did not object.

“(The Commission can still) do exactly what they were doing before in that commission,” McElraft pointed out. “They can still object if they have an FDA-cleared drug that they don’t want to come to North Carolina. I have to remind you these are FDA-cleared drugs. This is not marijuana legalization.”

Bill Wins Support from Nearly All State Lawmakers, but it May Mean the End of Medical Marijuana for Now

SB 448 passed both houses overwhelmingly, 92-9 in the House a unanimous 49-0 vote in the Senate. And why not? What’s wrong with a bill that says that if the federal government legalizes a medication, then North Carolina will consider doing the same?

The issue is that FDA approval of medical marijuana is unlikely to come anytime soon. As thirty-seven states have medical marijuana markets, there is little pressure at the federal level to respect the wishes of most voters but risk the wrath of some by changing cannabis’ classification.

And so long as lawmakers in the remaining states can create the illusion of progress - say by passing a bill related to FDA approval that is never coming - they can pay lip service to the will of voters and their belief in small government, without actually doing anything.

And so news outlets and experts are predicting that SB 448’s passage will be used as cover by lawmakers who either plan to vote against SB 711 or to delay its debate until next year.

And when they’re accused of being outdated prohibitionists who are catering to their base and ignoring what are undeniably the wishes of North Carolina as a whole, those lawmakers can point to SB 448 to bolster their cannabis-friendly bona fides.

And, unfortunately, there almost certainly isn’t time left to pass SB 711 in the current short legislative session, at least not now that SB 448 can be invoked by obstructionist lawmakers.

Just like South Carolina prohibitionists recently killed their medical marijuana bill on a technicality, it looks as though our lawmakers are about to do the same. This time. But if we work hard enough, we can prevent them from doing it again, and we can demand they create the medical marijuana bill North Carolinians want.

Contact Your Representatives, Then Contact Us!

What motivates your desire to see medical marijuana come to North Carolina? A suffering child in your family? Your own qualifying condition? The economic benefits to the state? Or just a sense of decency and compassion?

Whatever it is, hold on to it. Stoke it. Nurse that flame of righteous determination. And be sure to tell your representatives about it. They can’t ignore us forever.

And after you contact your lawmakers, contact us! Reserve an evaluation online today, and we’ll book an appointment for you with one of our knowledgeable, compassionate doctors just as soon as the state’s medical marijuana market is up and running.

You’ll learn if you qualify for a North Carolina Marijuana Card and how to best treat your conditions with safe, effective medical marijuana. You’ll even save $25 off the cost of your evaluation!


Doctors Who Care.

Relief You Can Trust.

Helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce the stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.

If you have any questions, call us at (833) 781-7320, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!

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