On Tuesday, for the first time, a North Carolina House committee heard a bill (S.B. 3) to legalize marijuana use for certain medical reasons. The House Health Committee did not hold a vote on S.B. 3 but discussed the bill for about 30 minutes.

Earlier this year, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 36 to 10.


In the 2021-2022 legislative session, the Senate passed a similar bill, but the legislation did not receive a committee hearing in the House, much less make it to the floor for a vote.

The bill is sponsored by the Senate’s second most powerful lawmaker, Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick. Rabon is the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.

“Senator Rabon has been the driving force on the medical marijuana bill that passed the Senate last time and did not pass the house,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. “I think time will help, and we’ll see whether or not this session is the right time. I think it’s the right thing for us to do. My thought is that the bill that passed the Senate last time was well constructed and addressed a lot of the concerns that people have.”

There were 10 Republicans who opposed S.B. 3 in the Senate. All Democrats supported the bill.

S.B. 3, dubbed “The Compassionate Care Act” by bill sponsors, has been a key negotiating tool for the House. Rabon has reportedly prevented many House bills from clearing his committee because the House refused to move S.B. 3.

With S.B. 3 receiving a hearing in the House, some House priorities may advance from the Senate Rules Committee to the Senate floor in return.

House Health Committee debate

Rabon introduced the bill to the House Health Committee and answered questions from representatives. Rep. Larry Potts, R-Davidson, presided over the meeting.

“I think it’s important for people to understand what this bill does and what it does not do,” Rabon said. “It is not intended to change current civil or criminal laws governing the use of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

Rabon emphasized that the bill’s intent is to keep medical marijuana highly regulated and focused on defined debilitating illnesses.

“The purpose of the bill is to allow tightly regulated use of medical cannabis only for those with debilitating illnesses,” Rabon said. “Suppliers are banned from most forms of advertising, including advertising that might appeal to minors.”

Rabon also addressed concerns about the ability of law enforcement to determine whether someone is legally using marijuana as prescribed by a doctor.

“We have accepted significant input from law enforcement on the bill,” Rabon said. “Law enforcement will have access to numerous records and databases necessary to verify that patients are eligible and in compliance with the provisions of the bill. Production facilities and cannabis centers are also subject to random searches and inspections by law enforcement and D.H.H.S.”

Rep. Tim Reeder, R-Pitt, shared some concerns with Rabon about several of the 15 illnesses designated as debilitating. Reeder said that HIV/AIDs and several other diseases mentioned are not usually “debilitating” if properly treated and asked Rabon if he would be open to amending the bill. Rep. Reece Pyrtle, R-Rockingham, shared similar concerns.

Rabon said he is open to amendments but implied that PTSD was an important condition to keep in the bill because more veterans have supported the bill with personal testimony than any other group.

“We have lost more veterans to suicide than we’ve lost in the last two wars we’ve fought,” said Rep. Allen Chesser, R-Nash, who also said he supports the bill.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said he was not convinced it was a good idea to legalize medical marijuana until he took a trip with about 15 other lawmakers to Mississippi and toured their highly regulated production facilities.

Lambeth’s experience reduced his concerns about medical marijuana legalization being a gateway to legalizing recreational marijuana.

Toward the end of the committee meeting, Rabon shared his personal experience with medical marijuana. He credited medical marijuana with being alive today, saying it saved his life while he underwent cancer treatment, which included chemotherapy.

Rabon said he did not pay for medical marijuana, but someone supplied him with it by mail on a routine basis, right when he needed it each time.

Senate Bill 3 provisions

S.B. 3 identifies debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, sickle cell anemia, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, cachexia, and terminal illness as ones that would qualify for the use of cannabis.

S.B. 3 requires doctors to complete a 10-hour continuing medical education course, conduct risk screenings, educate patients, and provide follow-up care before issuing written certifications for medical cannabis use. Doctors must have a bona fide physician-patient relationship before issuing a written certification for cannabis use. Doctors are also prohibited from advertising their ability to issue prescriptions.

S.B. 3 requires the Department of Health and Human Services (D.H.H.S.) to issue registry identification cards to individuals with debilitating medical conditions who are at least 21 years old and have been designated as caregivers. The bill also requires cardholders to carry their identification cards and disclose them to law enforcement when approached.

The bill also requires D.H.H.S. to create a confidential electronic database containing information about qualified patients, designated caregivers, and physicians and to monitor the database for unusual patterns.

Additionally, S.B. 3 establishes the Medical Cannabis Production Commission, which has the power to approve applications for medical cannabis supplier licenses, and the authority to suspend or revoke licenses. The commission can issue up to 10 supplier licenses, each of which can operate no more than four medical cannabis centers. Each supplier must pay a monthly fee of 10% of their gross revenue derived from cannabis sales to D.H.H.S.

For registry identification cardholders, smoking and vaping cannabis is prohibited in public places, any place of employment, in a vehicle, in or within 1,000 feet of a church, childcare facility, or school. However, the fine for violating this will not be more than $25.

Senate Bill 3 was the first bill filed in the North Carolina Senate, indicating its high priority level for Sen. Rabon.

The bill will move to the House Finance Committee if it receives a favorable vote from the House Health Committee. S.B. 3 did not receive a vote today, as it was scheduled for discussion only.