State lawmakers have filed a bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use in North Carolina – a perennial proposal that has failed to gain traction in the past.
Longtime medical-marijuana advocate Rep. Kelly Alexander of Charlotte filed the bill Wednesday with support from 10 fellow Democrats, including Charlotte Rep. Rodney Moore and several Triangle representatives.
Similar bills have a history of lacking support from Republicans who now control both the House and the Senate. But Moore said he and Alexander will continue to introduce the legislation because the drug has shown promise as a therapy for cancer patients and people suffering from epilepsy.
“The reason why myself and Representative Alexander keep putting this bill forth is simply that some of our citizens need it,” he said. “So we’re going to keep pushing it.”
The Obama administration took a hands-off approach to states that have legalized marijuana. During a Thursday press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested the Department of Justice will pursue enforcement of federal law against recreational use, but not medical use. The move could signal tolerance from the Trump administration on the use of pot as a medical treatment.
The drug has been legalized for medical use in 28 states, but Florida is one of the only Southern states that allow it.
Ninety three percent of Americans support medical marijuana use, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Thursday. In a 2010 Gallup Poll, 70 percent of people surveyed favored legalizing marijuana for medical use.
In North Carolina, Moore pointed to bills passed in 2015 legalizing the hemp industry and allowing neurologists to dispense hemp, or CBD, oil to patients for treating epilepsy as a sign that there may be support for his bill.
“Medical marijuana is something that the public has changed its mind on, even in North Carolina,” Moore said. “There very may well be some support for this bill on the Republican side.”
The lawmakers’ “Medical Cannabis Act” would allow people with qualifying conditions to possess and use marijuana without fear of arrest, prosecution or penalty. It would prohibit patients under the age of 18 from using marijuana unless they get consent from a parent who has gotten a full explanation of the potential risks and benefits of the drug.
Pot sales would be tightly controlled by the state and only permitted to be sold in licensed medical cannabis centers, the bill says.
The bill also calls for the creation of clinical research studies at the University of North Carolina of the use of cannabis as treatment, including on safety.
In 2015, a marijuana legalization bill had an hour-long hearing that ended with a legislator saying he was assaulted by a marijuana advocate and a committee made up of both Republicans and Democrats unanimously rejecting the bill.
Alexander sponsored a 2013 bill that proposed changing penalties for possession of certain quantities of marijuana. The law also laid out a way for for first-time offenders charged with certain misdemeanor possession charges to get the offense expunged from their criminal records. The bill never made it out of a committee, and Moore said it was a disappointment.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi
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