For more than a decade, North Carolina’s Democratic legislators have pushed one form or another of a medical marijuana bill, intended to safely, under strictly controlled conditions, allow cannabis to be used to alleviate one or another type of pain. They inevitably went nowhere.
But now that conservative, rock-ribbed Republicans are promoting a medical marijuana bill, success is more likely.
It brings to mind the political metaphor: Only Nixon could go to China.
The N.C. Compassionate Care Act is actually a bipartisan bill: Its primary sponsors are Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, chairman of the Rules and Operations committee; Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth; and Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover. Support for it is broad throughout the state legislature.
Support is also strong from the public; an Elon University poll released in February found that 73% of North Carolinians support the medical use of marijuana. That includes 64% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported earlier this week.
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."
Those conditions include nausea associated with cancer treatment, which Rabon, a veterinarian from Southport and a cancer survivor, likely experienced himself. During a public hearing in June, he said that if there’s something the state can do to help people alleviate the pain caused by cancer and other serious medical problems, he’s all for it.
Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, also has spoken in favor of the bill, citing her husband, who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. “If you had asked me six months ago if I would support this bill, I would have said no,” Harrington told The Charlotte Observer. “But life comes at you fast.”
And there’s a strong contingency among Democrats and Republicans that supports medical marijuana to treat PTSD among veterans. Several veterans have touted marijuana’s superiority — more effective, fewer side effects — to the drugs often prescribed by Veterans Affairs.
“They’re coming home and being treated for PTSD, TBI and many other ailments with extremely powerful drugs,” said Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, whose district includes Camp Lejeune. “Antidepressants, Oxycontin, Percocet. And they’re in extreme pain. Our suicide rates are through the roof, and they continue to get worse. Studies have shown that medical cannabis is a great reliever in lieu of these very powerful drugs.”
It’s hard to argue against that.
But, of course, some do. They include two Christian conservative groups, the N.C. Values Coalition and the Christian Action League.
The Rev. Mark Creech, the head of the Christian Action League, said he believes medical marijuana is backed up by “purely anecdotal evidence at best” and that it’s really just a slippery slope to full legalization.
But “purely anecdotal” includes the experiences of untold thousands of veterans.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein has also expressed concerns that the bill could open the door to recreational marijuana.
“I support people with genuine health needs, who can benefit from marijuana, being able to access marijuana,” Stein said. “I support that. And that requires us to change the law. But we have to be incredibly careful in how that is done.”
We agree, and we believe it can be done.
All these years after the public first became aware of marijuana, it still stokes controversy. Some will insist that it serves as a gateway to more harmful drugs. Others refer to the degree to which marijuana has become normalized, used by 13% or 24% of American adults, depending on the poll, while still maintaining jobs and raising families.
But one needn’t be a supporter of recreational marijuana use to understand that using it under controlled medical supervision would be preferable to self-medicating. If it can be used safely to alleviate pain and suffering, especially among our veterans, then it should be.
The bill has to meet the approval of several Republican-led committees before reaching the full Senate. Given the support it now receives from people who had been the most resistant, if it gets that far, it deserves to pass.