On Thursday, State Rep. Kelly M. Alexander Jr. of Charlotte and Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County introduced the North Carolina Medical Cannabis Act, HB-84, in the 2013 Session of the North Carolina General Assembly.
The bill would allow North Carolina doctors to prescribe marijuana, the dried flowers of the cannabis sativa plant, to patients. Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of legal medical marijuana.
Rep. Alexander said his bill draws from the best features of programs in the other states.
“Many seriously and chronically ill persons, including many disabled veterans, get relief from their suffering from marijuana,” said Alexander. “I can’t understand why we would not give seriously ill patients and our veterans anything and everything that gives them relief. Should seriously ill patients be arrested and sent to prison for using marijuana with their doctors’ approval? I cannot believe that North Carolinians want that to happen. A recent poll bears this out — six of ten North Carolinians favor legal medical marijuana.
“But patients for whom the standard, legal drugs are not safe or effective have two terrible choices in North Carolina today — they can continue to suffer, or they can get marijuana illegally, and risk suffering impure, contaminated, or chemically adulterated marijuana from the criminal market, and also risk arrest, fines, court costs, property forfeiture, incarceration, probation and a criminal record. I hope many of my legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in changing this. It’s unconscionable and uncompassionate,” said Alexander.
The bill, House Bill 84, targets people who have “certain debilitating medical conditions,” and cites several sources of medical research and lists the other states that have legalized medical cannabis, and states “North Carolina joins in this effort for the health and welfare of its citizens.” The bill goes on to say that it “is intended to make only those changes to existing North Carolina laws that are necessary to protect patients and their doctors from criminal and civil penalties and is not intended to change current civil and criminal laws governing the use of cannabis for nonmedical purposes.”
This bill comes after repeated speeches and appearances before boards ranging from a UNC Chapel Hill discussion panel on the War on Drugs to the North Carolina Democratic Party made by Rockingham native Perry Parks, Vietnam veteran and president of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network (NCCPN.org). He has invited supporters of the medical cannabis movement to join in a legislative Lobbying and Teach-in Day on Feb. 12 at the General Assembly.
“We have a couple days to get Republicans to co-sponsor this bill because it’s truly a non-partisan issue,” said Parks. “I’m excited to once again have an opportunity to education the public. This bill is strictly for medical purposes, so patients can get legal access to a drug that actually helps them. People are worried about the epidemic of overdoses from prescription pills. People overdose from prescription pills every day and we don’t cut the other patients off from those drugs. There has never been an overdose from cannabis.”
Richmond County’s Democratic House Representative Ken Goodman said he supports a healthy debate on the content of the bill, which he said “has merit.”
“This bill was introduced to the House two years ago and killed in committee, but since then there has been a good bit of new information on medical cannabis,” said Goodman. “It’s worth taking a serious look at since the evidence proves that it has benefits. Nineteen other states have already made the medical use legal. We ought to take a look at it. I think we need an opportunity to debate it. The problem with the bill is really just political fear and this bill does not make recreational use legal. There are very strong safeguards in the bill that prevent it from being used recreationally.”
State Representative Garland Pierce of District 48, which covers a portion of Richmond County, said he has heard only positive comments from people who support the measure due to having loved ones who suffer from cancer and ailments related to prescription pills.
“I’m interested in hearing more about the bill and hearing what the public has to say during the press conference and (rally) on Feb. 12,” said Pierce. “I saw the poll that said the majority of North Carolinians are in favor of this, and that’s a great number so it’s certainly something to consider. My mother, grandmother and stepfather all died with cancer, so I think this would mainly benefit people who suffer from cancer and related illnesses. I’m in favor of the bill.”
Hamlet pharmacist at Birmingham Drug, Bill Horne, said he is in favor of the medical use of cannabis, and prescribes an already legal extract that has been on the market for some time, touting its success with chronically ill patients. He didn’t always feel that way.
“My position was that I was against it (medical cannabis), but if it were prescribed for medical use only, I would probably sell it,” said Horne on Thursday. “I have (a few) patients on the capsule (Marinol) that have not lost one pound since … There’s no way I would ever go along with recreational legalization, but if used appropriately, I would sell it.”
Horne said he has seen people who use the Marinol capsules “live a fairly normal life,” and said he’s had “nothing but success with it.” Of the capsules, Horne added, “It’s an underused product.”
North Carolina doctors in fact, prescribed cannabis until 1937, when it was made illegal under federal law, according to the press office of Alexander. Alexander’s bill draws from the tightly regulated medical marijuana laws adopted since 1998 in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. It was drafted very carefully to make sure that there are no loopholes, real or imagined, Alexander said. Alexander noted, “These laws are not at all like the comparatively open-ended law in California passed back in 1996. And we can have the best model of all here in North Carolina.”
The North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network is sponsoring a legislative Lobbying and Teach-in Day on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the General Assembly. For more information, contact Perry Parks at www.NCCPN.org or by calling 910-995-0413.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.