North Carolina Approves MMJ Bill

State Capitol in Raleigh, NC. Photo: Shutterstock

Hemp is cannabis that has less than 0.3% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Medical marijuana has more than 0.3% of THC, a Schedule 6 controlled substance under the N.C. Controlled Substances Act.

The N.C. House voted Wednesday 86-25 to remove hemp from the state’s controlled substance list. Bill sponsors say House Bill 455, keeps state law in step with federal treatment of hemp. By moving it off the State Controlled Substances Act, it allows for the legal selling and transporting of the hemp substance.

A similar measure is also included in the N.C. Farm Act of 2022, unanimously approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The votes come ahead of the June 30 expiration date of the state law that allows farmers to grow hemp on a temporary basis.

“What we are doing is saving an industry that has spent millions upon millions of dollars already,” said Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, one of the primary co-sponsors of the Farm Act in the Senate. “If we don’t conform to federal law, they are going to be outlawed. They will be illegally transporting, and if we don’t conform to federal law, our retailers will be illegally selling products and our growers will, for the most part, be illegal and wipe out this industry.”

The the Farm Act spells out the differences between hemp and marijuana cannabis. Hemp is cannabis that has less than 0.3% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration which is the chemical that makes a marijuana user experience a “high.” Legal production of hemp products under this act would include rope, textiles, oils, and other products.

There are currently 1,500 licensed hemp growers in N.C. Starting this year, industry producers must comply with the federal USDA Domestic Hemp Production Rule.

Each bill would now go to the other chamber for approval.

Compassionate Care Act
Meantime, a N.C. Senate committee passed a bill on Wednesday by voice vote that would legalize the use of medical marijuana with more than 0.3% of THC, a Schedule 6 controlled substance under the N.C. Controlled Substances Act. The N.C. Compassionate Care Act now goes to the Senate floor for a full vote, possibly as early as Thursday, given Senate Leader Phil Berger’s indication earlier this week that he wants to bring it for a full chamber vote.

Senate Bill 711 would allow cannabis with higher levels of THC to treat “debilitating” conditions such as cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Senate Rules Committee has had the measure since the long session as lawmakers try to gauge the political appetitive for medicinal legalization. The bill offers extensive regulations on everything from advertising, to testing, licensing, and packaging.

If passed by both chambers and signed into law, N.C. would join 36 states and four territories that allow for the medical use of cannabis products, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sen Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, is a primary sponsor of S.B. 711, and is a cancer survivor. He says that he and bill writers spent much time researching how other states legalized medical marijuana, and where they may have gone wrong. He told lawmakers that this bill has proper safeguards.

“It is nothing more than trying to help people with the care that they need and augment their treatments as decided upon by a patient and by a physician,” Rabon said.

The bill as amended in committee during the long session adds patients in hospice or with less than six months to live as those allowed to use medical cannabis under the guidance of a doctor. Prescribing physicians must take a 10-hour class on how to dose and use medicinal marijuana, must see the patient in person, and conduct annual reviews to ensure they remain qualifying. The bill also limits “the number of written certifications a physician may issue at any given time.” Patients could possess 1.5 ounces at a time.

The bill establishes a Compassionate Use Advisory Board, with members to include doctors and pharmacists, and appointed by the governor and the N.C. General Assembly. The board would set limits on where and how medicinal marijuana could be used, including bans on it within 1,000 feet of churches, schools, or childcare facilities. It would also offer require law enforcement and employers to treat it similarly to other prescribed products. Growing it at home would remain illegal. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services will maintain a registry of prescriptions and patients and issue tamper-proof registry ID cards.

“It is the intent of the General Assembly to prioritize the protection of public health and safety in the creation of a system for the cultivation, processing, and selling of medical cannabis,” the bill reads.

The president of the N.C. Family Research Council, Jere Royall, spoke to the committee in opposition to the measure, pointing out that medical cannabis use has not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, and voiced concerns that legalizing it for medical use could lead to legalizing it for recreational use.

The bill also directs that a Medical Cannabis Production Commission be established to approve producer licenses, set penalties for violations, and oversee other parts of the production industry. The Commission would develop a “seed-to-sale” tracking system and be responsible for recalls, and other regulatory functions.

From here, the Compassionate Care Act goes to the full Senate for approval and, if passed, on to the House committees, where it may face resistance as members try to push it to a long-session issue.