A North Carolina Senate committee advanced an amended bill that would legalize medical cannabis in the state.

The legislation had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee before, but was then sent back for further consideration. The latest move follows a discussion the panel held on the proposed reform the week prior but which wasn’t voted on. On this occasion, it was approved unanimously by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a voice vote.

Now, the bill heads to the Senate Health Care and Rules and Operations Committees. If approved, the legislation could then make it to the Senate floor for a full vote.

“We’re encouraged that SB711 has been advanced by the Judiciary Committee,” said DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This is a crucial hurdle that has been cleared on the road to full passage.”

The proposal would allow patients with a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis to legally obtain up to one and a half ounces of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. A to-be-established Compassionate Use Advisory Board comprising 13 members would be able to add new qualifying conditions as deemed appropriate. Home cultivation, however, would remain prohibited.

Smoking and vaping of marijuana would be permitted, but only if a doctor prescribes a specified dosage and method delivery which would then be reevaluated annually. This provision was one of the revisions added to the bill. Another concerns the definition of a marijuana-infused product. Under the revised legislation, these now include “a tablet, a capsule, a concentrated liquid or viscous oil, a liquid suspension, a topical preparation, a transdermal preparation, a sublingual preparation, a gelatinous cube, gelatinous rectangular cuboid, lozenge in a cube or rectangular cuboid shape, a resin or wax.”

The bill stipulates a maximum of 10 medical marijuana suppliers responsible for growing and selling cannabis, with each operating up to four dispensaries. Certain medical cannabis advocates are concerned by the current eligibility requirements for these suppliers, as the provision states they must have at least five years experience “in cultivation, production, extraction, product development, quality control, and inventory management of medical cannabis in a state-licensed medical or adult use cannabis operation.”

By implication, then, North Carolina businesses would be locked out of the state’s medical marijuana program.

“Although we are in strong support of medical marijuana legalization and the relief it will bring to patients in North Carolina, we remain concerned about the lack of opportunities for small and independent businesses,” Ward said.

The revised version of the bill now contains protections for patients using medical marijuana legally. Employers and state officials would be prohibited from discriminating against a medical cannabis patient on the basis of their marijuana use.

While it still seems a long shot that a medical marijuana bill can pass North Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature, cannabis reform nonetheless enjoys strong support among the state’s voters. A recent poll found 54 percent in favor of full legalization, while 73 percent support legalizing medical marijuana.

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