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Toking Action: Legislators say medical marijuana could help

 Illustration by Tim Rickard

Illustration by Tim Rickard

Toking Action: Legislators say medical marijuana could help

By Taft Wireback April 8, 2017

If the backers of House Bill 185 have their way, North Carolina residents would be able to use marijuana to relieve otherwise unyielding pain from chronic disease and other specified medical ailments.

The aim isn’t to provide a subterfuge for people to get a recreational buzz with impunity, proponents say.

The detailed, 18-page bill only seeks a pathway to relief for people battling ills “from cancer and glaucoma to disabling pain from whatever source,” said state Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), a primary sponsor of the bill.

“This bill has lots of checks and balances” to prevent abuse and fraud, Harrison said. “And it’s a potential revenue source, too.”

The bill filed two months ago isn’t Harrison’s first visit

to the rodeo; she has been advocating some form of the 2017 bill for more than 10 years, noting that — as the latest version asserts — 28 states and the District of Columbia already “permit the medical use and cultivation of marijuana.”

The bill calls for a statewide referendum in which voters would say “yea” or “nay” on amending the North Carolina Constitution to legalize the medical use of marijuana and to authorize the “cultivation of cannabis for individuals with debilitating medical conditions verified by a physician.”

If voters approve the constitutional amendment, the new law would go into effect in Dec. 1, 2018.

Harrison introduced the bill in late February with lead sponsor state Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Charlotte) and Democratic state Reps. Becky Carney and Rodney Moore, both also of Charlotte.

Two similar bills have been filed in the N.C. Senate, but neither would require a referendum.

North Carolina already has taken a baby step into the realm of medicinal marijuana with the Epilepsy Alternative Treatment Act of 2014, which legalizes treatment of seizures with some of the plant’s extracts that are low in the chemical THC, which accounts for most of pot’s mind-altering properties.

But Harrison said the current initiative still faces an uphill fight because of the stigma that society attaches to marijuana, coupled with the conservative bent of the Republican-led legislature.

Republican state Rep. Jon Hardister of Greensboro did not completely close the door on supporting the bill late last week, but he said he would “defer to members of the North Carolina House Health Committee as to how they view this topic.”

“I haven’t had the time to do extensive research on it,” Hardister said. “We need to seek input from medical experts and law enforcement.”

The House bill cites scientific evidence dating back decades that has established “beneficial uses for cannabis in treating or alleviating pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions, as found by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine in March 1999.”

The bill notes that the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park has been involved in a marijuana research project through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dating to 1978.

And based on similar experiences in other states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, the House bill estimates that legalization would “result in approximately $250 million per year in revenues for the state within four years of implementation.”

Harrison said that two years ago, the version of the bill then in play at least received a hearing before a review committee, a forum during which witnesses living with chronic pain testified about the relief they had received from medical marijuana.

“We had disabled vets, widows of disabled vets and an elderly grandmother — all people who had been helped by marijuana for pain relief,” Harrison said. “And all of the people who spoke two years ago were Republicans.”

But to no avail, Harrison said, because the bill never made it out of committee.

History may be repeating itself. The latest House version was referred to the House Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations on Feb. 27, from whence it has not budged.

Harrison said that while she acknowledges the issue faces long odds this time around just as before, she remains optimistic that North Carolina’s leaders eventually will come around.

“I do think we’re going to get there eventually,” she said. “But it would be nice if we could do it sooner rather than later.”

Marijuana to the rescue

House Bill 185 defines diseases that could qualify a sufferer for pain relief through the proposed law and under the supervision of a physician:

Cancer

Gliomas

Glaucoma

HIV

Hepatitis C

Porphyria

ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Alzheimer’s

Nail-patella Syndrome

Fibromyalgia

Severe Migraines

Multiple Sclerosis

Celiac Disease

Crohn’s Disease

Diabetes Mellitus

Dystonia

Gastrointestinal disorders

Hypertension

Incontinence

Spinal cord disease or injury

Other back injuries

MRSA

Tourette’s Syndrome

Any other disease or condition that results in such side effects as wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, anorexia, seizures, and severe or persistent muscle spasms.

Contact Taft Wireback at (336) 373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.