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Former Forsyth legislator leading lobbying effort for medical marijuana bill in state legislature
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Former Forsyth legislator leading lobbying effort for medical marijuana bill in state legislature

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At the beginning of the pandemic the legal cannabis industry was disrupted but by the end of 2020 the industry saw record sales of $17.5 billion. Veuer’s Johana Restrepo has more.

Former Forsyth County legislator Edward Hanes Jr. is leading a lobbying effort in support of a state Senate bill that would permit the use of medical marijuana for the first time in North Carolina.

The bipartisan Senate Bill 711, titled “NC Compassionate Care Act,” is the latest in several attempts in the last 12 years.

The bill was filed April 7 by Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, chairman of the Rules and Operations committee. Rabon is one of three primary sponsors, along with Sens. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, and Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.

The Senate Finance committee was scheduled to address the bill Tuesday.

However, the meeting was cancelled Monday and moved to 2 p.m. July 20.

Hanes is listed as principal officer for the N.C. Medical Cannabis Foundation, which registered April 21 with the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office.

Hanes could not be immediately reached for comment on his lobbying efforts.

The address listed for the lobbying group is 1001 W. Fourth St. — the same as the downtown Winston-Salem office for the law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.

The other lobbyists listed for N.C. Medical Cannabis Foundation are Nelson Freeman and Charles McDowell IV, both of whom serve as government relations advisors for the firm.

McDowell previously served as a staffer for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, while Freeman is a former advisor to House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

Daunting path

SB711 cleared the Senate Judiciary committee on June 30 after a 65-minute hearing.

It still must clear — in this order — the Finance, Health Care, and Rules and Operations committees before a potential Senate floor vote.

The pathway through the state House could be equally daunting, if not more so, according to political analysts.

Yet medical marijuana may have its best odds yet with Rabon as its lead sponsor.

NC CANN is another group lobbying for passage of SB711, also operating as N.C. Families for Medical Cannabis in this initiative. NC CANN began its overall medical marijuana lobbying efforts in August 2017.

Its founding members include Root Bioscience, a North Carolina-based hemp products company that has Garrett Perdue, son of former Gov. Bev Perdue, as chief executive.

“When Sen. Rabon talks about sitting in waiting rooms as a cancer patient wondering who would be the next to die, it is clear how serious this is to him and that there is a real opportunity to pass this critical patients’ rights legislation this session,” Garrett Perdue said in a statement.

Other founding members are Columbia Care, Cresco, Curaleaf, Ilera Holistic, Pharmacann and Trulieve. It operates as the NC Families for Medical Cannabis.

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“North Carolina’s veteran population is one of the highest in the nation,” said Matt Harrell, vice president of government relations for Curaleaf.

“We know from experience how our veterans suffer from PTSD, the unforgivable daily suicide rate of 22 suicides per day that devastate this community.

“Medical cannabis can help when other drugs do not, and North Carolina veterans deserve the chance to help themselves.”

Restrictive bill

Bill sponsors and other senators supporting SB711 said it represents what Sen. Wally Nickel, D-Wake, called “the most conservative and restrictive medical marijuana bill in the country.” There are 36 states that permit some form of medical marijuana use.

“This bill is narrowly tailored to offer medical marijuana to those with legitimate medical needs,” Nickel said.

Perdue said that “having worked on similar legislation throughout the country, it was obvious a tremendous amount of care and attention went into drafting legislation that ensures we avoid mistakes made in other states.”

As a primary reason for legalization, the bill says “modern medical research has found that cannabis and cannabinoid compounds are effective at alleviating pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with several debilitating medical conditions.”

Rabon, a cancer survivor, has said SB711 would not serve as a gateway to recreation marijuana use.

“Recreational marijuana use is not something we want in our state,” Lee said, but added that the prohibition should not keep North Carolina from doing the right thing for people with chronic and debilitating conditions.

Lowe said bill sponsors reviewed legislation in piecing together SB711.

“We realized that, for some states, it has worked out well, while for others it was just a recreational product,” Lowe said. “That’s not the goal with this particular bill on our state.”

Some advocates for permitting medical marijuana still criticize SB711 for being too restrictive on who can use it, and for not putting enough emphasis on the mental health aspect of debilitating health conditions.

Others spoke against the amendment that reduces the number of medical cannabis centers in North Carolina from eight to four, two of which would be located in one of the state’s 20 Tier 1 counties — likely Mecklenburg and in the Triangle.

Forsyth and Guilford counties are in Tier 2.

Background

SB711 is similar in language to some of the 12 previous Democratic-sponsored medical marijuana bills, which date to the 2009-10 sessions.

None of those bills, including House Bill 401 in the 2019 session, advanced out of the first committee step. House Bill 1161 in 2014 would have amended the state Constitution to legalize usage.

Many of the previous bills carried the title of “Enact Medical Cannabis Act” or “Legalize Medical Marijuana.”

An Elon University poll released in February found that 73% of North Carolinians support the medical use of marijuana. That’s down from nearly 80% when the question was asked in 2017.

About 64% of Republicans surveyed said they supported the use of medical marijuana, along with 75% of Democrats.

In a separate but related question, 54% of North Carolina adults support the legalization of the drug for casual use, and only 34% oppose it.

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@rcraverWSJ

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