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Real medical marijuana won’t be available in North Carolina anytime soon.

North Carolina SignA state legislative committee unanimously rejected a medicinal cannabis proposal in late March, ending hopes that patients will have access to the drug this year. Still, supporters said they saw signs for hope in the setback.

“I’ve been working on this since I was elected in 2004,” said state Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill. “I’ve seen it evolve. That gives me some hope. It’s kind of like gay marriage: We’re going to get there.”

A highly restricted form of medical marijuana is already legal in North Carolina. House Bill 78 would have opened the door to medical cannabis for a wider range of patients.

A lost cause

But the bill died a quick death in the House Judiciary Committee, where Republicans killed MMJ for the second time in three years. Most advocates knew in advance that this year’s effort was a lost cause.

Last year lawmakers enacted a bill that allows CBD oil, a non-intoxicating form of cannabis high in cannabidiol. This chemical, also known as CBD, is useful in treating childhood seizure disorders and a handful of other conditions.

But because it doesn’t contain THC and doesn’t get users high, this form of MMJ can’t help most potential marijuana patients. Those with cancer, PTSD, Tourette’s syndrome, and many other disorders require the high to treat their conditions.

Hopes of expanding CBD program

Medicinal cannabis activists had hoped to expand the CBD program into a full MMJ program, with strains high in THC available alongside CBD marijuana oil. Though increasingly popular in most other parts of the country, this remains a hard sell in the Deep South.

The closest any state there has come to adopting real medical cannabis was in Florida, where voters fell two percentage points shy of the 60 percent needed to enact true MMJ under state law.

North Carolina was one of the biggest Southern targets marijuana reformers had in their sights. A new proposal is also on the horizon in Florida, and efforts are underway in Tennessee as well.

Florida MMJ expected in near future

Medical Marijuana

But the “no” vote in North Carolina could hold back other reform campaigns in the South. Florida is viewed as a good bet to adopt medical marijuana at some point in the near future, but conservative lawmakers could easily delay it for another year or two.

In 2013 members of the North Carolina House Rules Committee killed an MMJ bill after allowing just four patients to testify in favor of it. This time around, more than a dozen advocates were allowed to speak before the Judiciary Committee. That marks real progress, medicinal cannabis proponents say.

Even so, the bill’s defeat means suffering patients won’t be able to use the medicine they need without breaking the law. They’re the real victims of North Carolina’s drug war policies.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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