A year after the N.C. General Assembly killed House Bill 84 — The Medical Cannabis Act — after only 20 minutes of consideration, the future is looking somewhat brighter for sick North Carolinians who want to ease their suffering with marijuana.
Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg), who sponsored HB 84, has indicated he will propose an amendment to the state constitution legalizing medical marijuana during the short legislative session next month. But he's not the only representative proposing some form of legalization.
Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican representing coastal Carteret and Jones counties, will file a bill to legalize Realm Oil — a low-THC oil extracted from a specific marijuana strain — which has been proven to help with seizures in children with extreme epilepsy. The oil doesn't have psychoactive properties, as THC is the chemical that produces a high, but has high levels of cannabidiol (CBD), a component with many therapeutic benefits.
McElraft says she is against legalizing medical marijuana for broader purposes. "It's not going to be about legalizing medical marijuana for adults," she told Raleigh-based WRAL. "This is only about CBD oil for the children."
While McElraft's bill and attitude may seem short-sighted and callous to people suffering other conditions marijuana has been proven to help, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, the fact she's writing the bill does show that even opponents of cannabis are starting to accept the science of its healing properties.
Alexander says he thinks both measures have a good chance of passing in May. "I believe mine is better because it gives a whole-plant approach and will address more people and a number of serious conditions, but if they pass the low-THC measure, it will be better than where we are now, because some of those previously opposed to medicinal marijuana will have changed positions."
If Alexander's amendment proposal passes, legalization of medical marijuana will be put on the ballot for citizens to vote on in November, and it will likely pass. Though polls last year already showed a majority of North Carolinians in favor of medical marijuana, the numbers have kept climbing, and currently land between 64 to 76 percent, depending on who's polling and how they're asking the question.
A wave of support for marijuana reform nationally has contributed to these increases — to date, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and more have pending legislation — but local activists have also played a role. People like Robert Dorr, a veteran who was jailed in Union County after telling police he was growing and smoking marijuana to treat his disabilities, and the Morley family, who moved from Wilmington, N.C., to Colorado to seek legal medical treatment for their 6-year-old epileptic daughter Mia, have kept this issue in the local news cycle and given a new face to cannabis use, forcing citizens to re-evaluate old Cheech and Chong stereotypes.
There are still plenty of lawmakers who won't budge, though, whether it's because they still cling to debunked 1930s marijuana danger propaganda, or they're getting handsome campaign contributions from industries like private prisons and alcohol companies who benefit from prohibition. Rep. Rick Catlin, a Republican representing Wilmington, where the Morley family used to live, told a newspaper last month he does not support legalization, asking, "If more people are using marijuana that didn't used to, how could that be positive?"
Alexander says some people will always think this way, no matter what scientific evidence they are presented with. "We still have a Flat Earth Society centuries after the world was proven to be round," he says. He warns supporters should not be complacent because of positive poll numbers.
"Worry the devil out of your senators and representatives, because nothing is going to change unless people fight for it," says Alexander. "When you go to a Panthers game, they tell you make some noise. Well ... make some noise. You have to make believers out of the skeptics."