A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina is likely dead for the 2023 legislative session, House Speaker Tim Moore said on Tuesday. 

Although he is in favor of the bipartisan legislation, Moore said that the bill, which was passed by the North Carolina state Senate in March, does not have the support of enough members of the Republican House majority to advance. Under the rules of the House Republican Caucus, bills brought to the floor for a vote must already have the support of a majority of its members, even if Democratic support makes the measure likely to pass without a majority of Republicans on board.

Complying with the Republican caucus’s rule “would require a number of House members who’ve taken a position of ‘no’ to literally switch their position to want to vote for it, and I just don’t see that happening,” Moore said, according to a report from the Associated Press.

After discussing the legislation with members of the Republican caucus, Moore said that he agrees with recent public comments from House Majority Leader John Bell, who said there is not enough support for the bill to advance this session. 

On Tuesday, Bell told Spectrum News that he suspects the legalization issue will come up during next year’s chief legislative session, likely to begin in May.

“There’s passion on both sides,” Bell said. “We have members of our caucus that are 100% supportive of it, and we have other members that are 100% against it.”

But supporters of the legislation are not ready to give up. Democratic Senator Paul Lowe, another lead sponsor of the medical marijuana legalization bill, told the Raleigh News & Observer “by no means” is the bill “dead.”

Lowe said that discussions with the House Speaker and other members of the Republican leadership team are “ongoing,” and that he feels “pretty good about it.” 

“I think there are some members of his caucus that are reevaluating things and looking at it, and I think they’re gonna come around,” he said, not citing specific lawmakers. Revealing their names, he said, “would kill what I’m trying to do.” 

“If we don’t finish it in the long session, we’ll deal with it in the short session” next year, he said. “I feel pretty confident about it.”

Bill Legalizes MMJ For Patients With Qualifying Conditions

The measure, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 3), was filed in January with sponsorship from Republican Senators Bill Rabon and Michael Lee and Lowe, their Democratic colleague. If passed, the bill would legalize the medicinal use of cannabis for patients with one or more specified qualifying serious medical conditions such as cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and others. Unlike the more comprehensive medical marijuana programs in many other states, however, the bill does not authorize the use of medical marijuana by patients living with chronic pain.

The sponsors of the bill note that the measure does not legalize recreational marijuana. Instead, the intent of the legislation “is to only make changes to existing state law that are necessary to protect patients and their doctors from criminal and civil penalties and would not intend to change current civil and criminal laws for the use of non-medical marijuana,” Rabon told reporters as the bill was being considered by the Senate earlier this year.

Under the bill, patients with a qualifying “debilitating medical condition” would be allowed access to medical cannabis. The bill permits the smoking and vaping of medical cannabis by patients whose doctors have recommended a specific form and dosage of medical marijuana. Physicians would be required to review a patient’s continued eligibility for the medical marijuana program annually.

Patients would be required to obtain a state medical marijuana identification card to participate in the program. The state Department of Health and Human Services would be tasked with creating “a secure, confidential, electronic database containing information about qualified patients, designated caregivers, and physicians,” according to the text of the measure.

Senate Passed Bill In March

The bill was passed by the North Carolina Senate on March 1 by an overwhelming bipartisan majority and sent to the state House of Representatives. In May, the bill was given a hearing by the House Health Committee, but the bill has not seen any action in the chamber since.

Late last month, Rabon tried to force action on the bill by attaching an amendment to an unrelated bill favored by Republicans in the House that would delay the enactment of the legislation until the medical marijuana bill is approved. The Senate approved the amendment and returned the largely technical legislation to the House, where it awaits further action.

State Senator Julie Mayfield, one of seven Democratic senators sponsoring a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adults, said that she believes the medical marijuana bill should be allowed to go to the House floor for a vote.

“It is long past time for North Carolina to legalize the medical use of cannabis,” Mayfield said in a statement to local media. “It has helped many, many people, and it is time to allow people who need it to acquire and use it with dignity and without fear. The bill would pass with overwhelming support from Democrats if only Speaker Moore would let it come to a vote. It’s time to let democracy work.”

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