The debate over legalizing marijuana in North Carolina has been ongoing for some time, and the state is now closer than ever to making it a reality. Recently, the state legislature passed a bill that would automatically legalize prescription drugs containing marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), the chemical compound in the marijuana plant that causes the drug high. But before this can happen, several steps must be taken. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must first approve the use of the prescription.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must then make appropriate changes to federal programs. Finally, a state commission would not have to oppose the change. Proponents of the bill argue that THC has medicinal benefits, including treating seizures, and point out that it would simply align state and federal standards. Critics, however, worry that it could set a damaging precedent and lead to full legalization of marijuana in North Carolina.
Larry Pittman, Republican of Cabarrus County, was one of only nine legislators to object to the bill. He proposed an amendment to say that marijuana will not be legalized in North Carolina regardless of federal action, but the change was not considered by GOP House Speaker Tim Moore. Carteret County's Pat McElraft said the state Commission on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse can still oppose FDA-approved drugs. The bill passed 92-9 in the House of Representatives on Wednesday after a unanimous 49-0 vote in the state Senate last month. Governor Roy Cooper is expected to sign the measure into law soon.
A WRAL News online poll found that North Carolina Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters overwhelmingly support legalizing marijuana for medical use. Recreational use also has strong support, including from a plurality of Republicans. Nearly three out of four respondents said marijuana should be legalized for medical use, while 57% supported recreational legalization. Now that the bill has passed both houses of the legislature with strong bipartisan support, it is only a matter of time before North Carolina joins other states in legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use. It remains to be seen how this will affect the state's economy and public health, but one thing is certain: this is an important step forward for North Carolina.