The “NC Compassionate Care Act,” a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina, will be discussed in a Senate committee today. It is the only bill on the calendar for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, filed S.B. 3 on the first day bills were allowed to be filed this year. Sens. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, and Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, are also primary sponsors of the bill.

“The Compassionate Care Act had great momentum and bipartisan support last session,” said Rabon. “It’s imperative that we continue to fight to ensure that North Carolinians with debilitating illnesses can receive the treatments they deserve.”  

Earlier this year, Rabon was reappointed as chairman of Senate Rules and Operations, the most powerful committee in the Senate, by Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. Rabon is widely regarded as one of the most powerful state legislators in North Carolina.

Last year, Rabon filed marijuana legalization legislation that passed the Senate by a vote of 36-7; however, it did not make it through the state house.

“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 Berger. “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.”

Critics of legalization for medicinal use point to the need for more research into efficacy and safety of cannabis, plus numerous medical associations and the Food and Drug Administration who have not endorsed or approved it.

The North Carolina Medical Society released a statement on cannabis in January:

“The North Carolina Medical Society supports efforts to research the potential health benefits and adverse health effects of cannabis and cannabidiol products, including the pediatric population, and supports the education of its members regarding these issues. The NCMS supports efforts to increase funding for education, prevention, and treatment of substance use disorders, particularly cannabis use disorder.” – North Carolina Medical society, january 2023

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. The bill also establishes a Compassionate Use Advisory Board that reviews petitions to add new debilitating medical conditions and has the authority to add new conditions.

Additionally, 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, or designated caregivers who are at least 21 years old. 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.