Feb 22, 2023 - News

NC lawmakers revive medical marijuana legislation

Illustration of weekly pill case with marijuana leaves labels.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

For the second year in a row, North Carolina's state Senate is poised to pass legislation that would legalize medical marijuana.

  • Backed by one of the most senior and powerful members of the chamber, the bill is expected to clear that first major hurdle with relative ease within the next week.

Driving the news: Once that happens, all eyes — and pressure — will be on the House, where the legislation stalled in last year's short session.

  • The bill, dubbed the Compassionate Care Act, may have better odds this year.
  • A growing number of House Republicans are throwing their weight behind the legislation, some political observers say, in part because of the bill's key sponsor's willingness to share his own experience with debilitating illnesses.

Why it matters: If the legislation makes it across the finish line, the state would be the 38th to legalize medicinal cannabis, making it accessible to North Carolinians suffering from a narrow list of ailments, including cancer, epilepsy and PTSD.

Details: The proposal includes restrictions on medical marijuana that would be among the tightest in the country, bill sponsors say.

  • "In addition to providing support to those who are suffering from debilitating conditions, we also want to protect the general public and that's why you see the processes in place," said one bill sponsor, Republican state Sen. Michael Lee.

Between the lines: Among the factors driving House Republicans' shift is the bill sponsor himself: Senate Rules chairman Sen. Bill Rabon of Brunswick County, who's been crafting the legislation for the better part of the last decade.

"Bill Rabon is the heavyweight — there are a number of lobbyists — but honestly my respect for Rabon probably carries the most weight with me," one top House Republican, Rep. Jason Saine, told Axios.

Another factor in the growing support in the House for the legislation, Saine said, is time.

  • "It had to bake a little longer for some," he said. "Members have heard from many of their constituents with health issues and understand that a cautious and well regulated approach is best and have looked at what other states have done right and wrong in this space."

The intrigue: The medical marijuana industry has hired at least a dozen lobbyists this year to persuade lawmakers on the fence — a move only adds pressure on House Republicans who have yet to back the bill.

Reality check: We're still early in the session, and this bill likely has to clear at least six more votes — in committees and in the House and Senate chambers — before it can make it to the governor's desk.

  • As we like to say often when we talk about legislation in this newsletter: Don't hold your breath.

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