ROCKINGHAM — Perry Parks is no stranger to the fight for medical marijuana.
The U.S. Army veteran and Richmond County resident has been using cannabis to treat chronic pain since 2003 after he retired from the National Guard.
Prior to using cannabis, Parks was being treated with injections and pain pills.
“Whenever I retired from the military and started using cannabis, I was surprised it worked that well,” he said.
Parks has attended multiple conferences on the medicinal benefits of cannabis since becoming a user.
“The more I learned, the more I learned why it works and how it works,” he said.
“When I look at the reduced harm to my body, to my organs…I’m going to continue to do this until I’m forced to stop,” he said. “I will not go back to the pills that were slowly killing me.”
Parks is the executive director of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network. The organization has nearly 1,700 members and its stated goal is “to educate the public at large to the safety, efficacy and need for patient protection and medical marijuana legislation in North Carolina.”
“This is not about in-your-face breaking the law,” he said, “but standing up against an unjust law.”
North Carolina legislators currently have two bills in the works that would allow patients access to various forms of medical cannabis.
One bill, introduced by Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, would create a constitutional amendment, to be approved by voters, which would establish the Medical Cannabis Protection Act.
The bill lays out a heavily regulated system with administration responsibilities split between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
It would allow not only the use, but also the cultivation, sale and transport of medical cannabis.
Patients, physicians, caregivers and producers would not be subject to criminal prosecution as long as they have state permits and comply with the law.
A second bill, introduced last month by Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, would allow for the use of hemp oil extracts for the treatment of seizures.
Both bills would require patients to register with and pay registration fees to the state. The first bill estimates that the state could rake in $250 million per year within the first four years of implementation.
Last weekend, the state Democratic Party adopted a resolution to urge lawmakers to put an end to the prosecution of medicinal marijuana users.
The resolution, authored by NCCPN members, also calls for reforms on the state and federal level to regulate cannabis in much the same way as alcohol.
Last year, a medical marijuana bill went up in smoke when it was killed in the House Rules Committee. Speaker Pro-tem Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, said voters were bombarding lawmakers with phone calls and emails about medicinal marijuana.
Sen. Gene McLaurin, D-Richmond, said he hasn’t had time to study Alexander’s bill, but added, “I’d be receptive to letting the voters decide.”
“We need to learn what has happened in other states,” he said. “If there are proven benefits, I’m open to supporting that bill.”
In regard to McElraft’s bill, McLaurin said he is “very comfortable supporting that bill, if it can get through the House.”
He added, “I think it could definitely benefit a certain segment of people in our state.”
Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Hoke, said he didn’t have a problem supporting either bill, as long the use of cannabis-related medications was tightly controlled and “used for the sole purpose of helping people with medical problems.”
Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, said he’d support a medical marijuana bill as long as it included controls to ensure the drug would only be available to those with a valid prescription.
“I think it is time that we take a hard look at it,” Goodman said, explaining that all previous bills have died in committee. “If we get a bill that has safeguards, that is truly a prescription-type bill, I would be all for it. It’s not going to happen in this short session, I’m sure of that, but I think it’s time the General Assembly takes it up. It’s time it has an open and thorough debate.”
Goodman’s first wife died of breast cancer about 13 years ago, and the lawmaker said her doctor suggested marijuana to combat nausea and restore her appetite after chemotherapy. Goodman said his late wife didn’t try cannabis, but he wants other patients to have the option.
“My inclination is I would support it unless I knew something that I do not know now,” he said.
Parks said his activism is about trying to speak the truth against what he sees as an injustice.
“Why would I jeopardize all this?” he said, speaking of his picturesque Richmond County homestead. “Because it’s too great of an injustice to not say something.”
Parks said he’s a Christian and feels like this is his calling.
“I know that I was called to this just as well as any other preacher is called to preach the word,” he said.
Parks isn’t alone in spreading awareness throughout North Carolina.
One activist is in the midst of a march from Asheville to Raleigh to raise awareness for medical cannabis.
Todd Stimson, founder of Blue Ridge Medical Cannabis Research Corp., began the March Against Fear 2014 in downtown Asheville June 6 and has been walking with other activists along U.S. 70 through Marion, Morganton and Hickory, carrying signs and a fake cannabis plant.
Parks said that the NCCPN is planning to have as many members as possible join Stimson in Jordan Lake for the last leg of his march to the legislative building.
Stimson is one of two defendants in current court cases regarding the medicinal use of cannabis in North Carolina.
Law enforcement officers raided Stimson’s Henderson County home last July because he was growing cannabis for patients, despite receiving a privilege license for Art of Healing from the state and purchasing tax stamps for his product.
Robert Dorr, a Union County activist, actually called deputies to let them know he was using and growing cannabis for medical use. He was arrested last December.
A survey released by Public Policy Polling in January found that while 48 percent of North Carolinians were not in favor of outright legalization, 63 percent thought that doctors should be allowed to prescribe cannabis for medical use.
Similarly, a poll from Elon University in March shows 51 percent of registered voters oppose full legalization. But a 2013 poll found that 76 percent supported medical marijuana, prescribed by doctors.
“They key is to change not the politicians’ minds,” Parks said, “but to change the public’s minds.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-997-3111, ext. 16.