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NC's medical marijuana plan creeps along as Virginia prepares to make bank
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NC's medical marijuana plan creeps along as Virginia prepares to make bank

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Marijuana seed giveaway draws large crowd in Henrico

I have no idea why, but any headline that contains the words “marijuana” or “cannabis” tends to light up the electronic tote board mounted on a wall over the shared office printer.

Such was again the case with a story Monday under the banner “Medical cannabis” bill faces next panel ... NC Senate Finance committee to discuss proposal on Wednesday.”

The Internet readers and browsers, the clickers and the clackers, predictably went into overdrive. Even the slightest mention of legal weed, by whatever form or forum, is cause for celebration.

Pass the bong, Sparky! We’re almost home!

But what many of the smokers, the jokers and the midnight tokers may be missing here is that the bill in question, SB 711 — the “NC Compassionate Care ACT” — is neither a stalking horse nor a (stoned) camel poking its nose under the tent of a more expansive bill.

“(The bill) is the most conservative and restrictive medical marijuana bill in the country,” said state Sen. Wally Nickel, D-Wake, a supporter of the measure.

Very narrow conditions

The bill under consideration is almost exactly what District Attorney Jim O’Neill and other high-ranking local law-enforcement officers had in mind when they stepped up to endorse the concept before a packed house in a 2019 panel discussion entitled “Pot or Not: Is it time for marijuana laws to change?”

“I’d be all for it … I understand the benefits of it when you talk about the medicinal use, and I understand how it could help in terms of appetite and those sorts of things,” O’Neill said that day to a crowd largely populated by, shall we say, folks at the opposite end of the political spectrum from where the buttoned-up conservative prosecutor usually resides.

Indeed, Republicans who support this particular bill favor a very restrictive approach to treating weed as medicine.

If passed in its current form, SB 711 would make medical marijuana available only by prescription for patients suffering from “pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with several debilitating medical conditions.”

Those would include, for example, cancer patients whose systems have been ravaged by chemotherapy or easing life-altering seizures suffered by those with severe forms of epilepsy. It would not include people who suffer from post-traumatic stress, anxiety, routine arthritis or sleeplessness.

So any stoners with visions of bopping into a storefront (or online) operation set up expressly to mass produce medical marijuana/get out of jail free cards to aging hippies with gray ponytails and orthopedic shoes might want to rethink this proposition.

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North Carolina is, was and shall remain for the foreseeable future a reluctant place where Government Knows Best — at least when it comes to matters of vice and personal choice.

Unless you want to drink yourself pickled or smoke cigarettes until your lungs turn crispy. That’s on you.

“Recreational marijuana use is not something we want in our state,” state Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, said.

Legislators know best

If by some minor miracle this particular medical cannabis bill were to pass the Legislature — it still faces three Senate committee hearings plus consideration by the House of Representatives — those few medical patients who obtain prescriptions would have to drive (or find a ride) to one of only four dispensaries.

Two of those would be in Charlotte and the Triangle. The other two, one suspects, would go to legislators with the most political clout.

Mind you, all of this comes despite polling that consistently shows that just over 70% of North Carolinians support the use of medical marijuana — including 64% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats.

(Some 54% back letting it all hang out with recreational use for adults and just 34% against. The other 14% were watching golf on TV.)

The uphill battle in Raleigh facing even limited medical marijuana use is no doubt a cause for celebration on the Virginia side of the state border.

We know, for example, that during the 10-year period between 1909-1919 when Prohibition was a state-by-state proposition — North Carolina banned demon rum while Virginia did not — bootleggers annually dropped some $388.5 million (in today’s dollars) across the state line.

The same scenario played out with the lottery.

Virginia’s lottery revenue topped $1 billion a year in the mid-2000s, and the state’s accountants eagerly estimated that a full 10% came from North Carolinians eager to play. Until fiscal 2007, when North Carolina’s lottery came online, all 10 of Virginia’s top retailers were on the state line.

Now, as a small army of clickers and clackers knows well, Virginia earlier this year went and legalized recreational weed. And North Carolinians can’t even get a referendum on a ballot to decide for ourselves.

That beeping noise you hear is the sound of Brinks trucks lining up along the state line as a handful of state legislators continue to debate putting even a toe in a deep, deep revenue stream.

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

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