Jun 1, 2022 - Politics

Top North Carolina Republican supports medical marijuana bill

Illustration of a red cross made out of marijuana joints.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

With North Carolina's GOP-controlled legislature back in full swing, an unlikely bill that would legalize medical marijuana is expected to advance — if only slightly — in the coming days.

The N.C. Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by top Senate Republican and Rules Committee chair Sen. Bill Rabon, is slated to be heard in committee Wednesday.

  • It's expected to pass the chamber this week.
  • The move comes after the bill was held up for months in the Rabons' committee last year, likely because it lacked support from some Republicans. It was not among the Senate’s top priorities at the time.

Details: The bill would allow medicinal use of weed for a narrow list of reasons, including cancer, epilepsy, post traumatic stress disorder, HIV, AIDS and Crohn's disease. Chronic pain and anxiety are not included, nor would it decriminalize recreational weed.

Why it matters: North Carolina is one of around a dozen states that have yet to legalize medical marijuana. With one of the most powerful state Republicans leading an effort to change, that shows the issue is no longer viewed to be as much of a political liability among conservatives.

  • "All the polling that we've seen indicates that medical marijuana is supported across party lines," said Dylan Watts, state Senate Republican political director. "The issue seems to have almost been desensitized across all demographics."

Yes, but: The bill would still need to pass the House before it reached the governor.

  • Cooper has not said whether he would sign the bill into law or not, but he has previously said he would review the legislation.

House Republicans have repeatedly said they don't want to take up substantial policy changes in this year's legislative "short session," which occurs during election years.

  • They've pointed specifically to medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion as bills too hefty to take up before the session is slated to end in early July.

What voters are saying: In a poll commissioned by the conservative Carolina Partnership for Reform, 82% of respondents said they supported legalization of medical marijuana.

  • "At this point, it seems pretty clear that it is only a matter of time until medical marijuana and recreational marijuana use are legalized in North Carolina," the group wrote when it released the results last week.

Go deeper: Medical Marijuana’s Conservative Champion (The Assembly)

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