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Short Session May Consider Legalizing Medicinal Pot

Alexander says state lawmakers can build on 'compassion' shown in passing hemp oil bill

A Charlotte-area state representative says making medical marijuana available for people suffering from terminal illnesses would bolster the General Assembly’s recent record of crafting policies that show compassion for seriously ill patients.

“We passed two bills dealing with CBD oil that were driven by compassion,” said Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, of the substance found in marijuana that is used to treat some seizure disorders. Alexander plans to introduce a bill in this year’s short session legalizing marijuana to ease suffering for those with terminal illnesses who have found traditional pain or anti-nausea medications ineffective or causing serious side effects.

“It would make a lot of sense if we were to build upon what the legislature has already done and look at people who are in the end phase of life,” Alexander said.

The National Council of State Legislatures reports that 23 states allow medicinal marijuana in some form.

Alexander noted that some medicines used to treat terminal illnesses and the pain associated with them can cause cognitive and gastrointestinal problems, among other issues.

“You’re real woozy all the time,” Alexander said. “That’s not good for your quality of life.” Some opiates also cause constipation, he said.

“If you could use something that doesn’t have these other effects but still helps to alleviate your pain, it makes sense,” Alexander said. “You can’t argue that a person using cannabis at this stage is going to have some long-term effects. It’s not going to happen.”

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the House Rules Committee, said he could not predict how Republicans in the House would receive the proposal.

“I think there are many members of the House that are keenly aware of the challenges that terminally ill patients face and the dangers of many of the synthetic drugs that are out there,” Lewis said. “I think we would need to look at the bill and then have the opportunity to discuss it.”

“I think the desire and the need to be compassionate and to provide as much quality of life as we can is certainly on the minds of every member,” Lewis said.

Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, who chairs one of the House’s judiciary committees, also said he’d like to hear more about the proposal.

Alexander said opinion polls show a majority of North Carolinians supporting the legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

A February 2013 Elon University Poll found that 76 percent of those surveyed supported medical marijuana. Majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans supported legalizing medical marijuana for treating cancer.

“At some point, that change in opinion out there in the state, which is bipartisan, has got to be reflected in the legislature and how we change our laws,” Alexander said.

Alexander has not drafted a bill. A lot of details, including how patients could obtain marijuana legally, have not been worked out, he said.

“The simplest way of doing it would be to remove the prohibition and be silent on how [patients] would pick up the medication,” Alexander said.

Another possibility would be to allow caregivers for terminally ill patients to provide marijuana legally, Alexander said. He also said the state could tweak the CBD oil statute to allow marijuana to be provided to terminally ill patients.