Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Medical weed bill tightened further, still moving in Senate

The medical marijuana bill backed by Senators Bill Rabon and Michael Lee received a round of edits prior to a committee hearing Aug. 18. (Port City Daily/File)

A handful of significant edits were recently made to the medical cannabis bill promoted by local N.C. Senate Republicans Bill Rabon (Brunswick) and Michael Lee (New Hanover). 

The voyage of their weed bill has already been historic; legislators are considering cannabis with a novel seriousness, and, even more unprecedented, the bill has already triumphed in two Senate committee votes.

Rabon and his fellow Senators supporting the bill have emphasized in hearings that their proposal would be among the most restrictive pieces of medical cannabis legislation enacted in the country. 

It would include tight limits on the number of dispensaries across the state and seed-to-sale oversight — also a new cannabis role for government within the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and two state-level boards to be filled with appointees.

Filed in April, the bipartisan N.C. Compassionate Care Act received a favorable vote in the judiciary committee in early July, then a favorable vote in the finance committee later in the month. From there, it was scheduled to move to the healthcare committee, and finally a hearing in the rules and operations committee, which is helmed by Rabon. 

On Aug. 4, before a healthcare committee hearing was set, the bill was taken back to judiciary. Senators presented an updated version of the bill in a judiciary committee hearing Aug. 18, with some significant changes.

Rabon said the bill’s newest version reflects recommendations from the attorney general’s office and NCDHHS, according to N.C. Insider. 

One major change applies to “debilitating medical conditions” — the defined list of ailments that would qualify one to become a card-carrying cannabis patient. Previously there was a provision in this list of conditions allowing for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as, or comparable to, those enumerated in this subdivision.” 

That bullet point, which would have allowed some physician discretion in prescribing cannabis for unlisted conditions, has been removed in the bill’s current version. It’s replaced by text making cannabis prescriptions allowed for  individuals in hospice care and those suffering from a terminal illness “when the patient’s life expectancy is less than six months.” (The appointed board overseeing the process can add “debilitating medical conditions” to the list with a majority vote. Read the full list at the end of this article.)

Doctors have more responsibilities in the updated version. Those looking to prescribe cannabis must annually “provide education to a qualified patient on the risk and symptoms of cannabis use disorder and cannabis-induced psychosis.” 

Prescribing doctors must also evaluate their cannabis patients at least annually — a visit that includes determining the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for the individual and checking their prescription history in the Controlled Substances Reporting System. These requirements are akin to the rules overseeing prescription-writing for certain opioids and narcotics.

Cannabis patients themselves, according to the bill’s language, would be required to carry their registry identification card wherever they take their cannabis. Rabon likened this responsibility to that of concealed carry permit holders, according to N.C. Insider. Smoking and vaping the product would be limited mostly to private residences — it wouldn’t be permitted in vehicles or any place “open to the public.”

NCDHHS, if the bill becomes law, would grant up to five licenses to independent testing laboratories “to test cannabis and cannabis-infused products that are to be sold in the State.” 

Licenses for the cultivation and sale of cannabis — both the flower and other products — will initially be capped at 10. Each of those entities will be permitted up to four dispensaries each, and they’ll be responsible for the entire process, from acquiring and growing the seeds to transporting and selling the products in stores. The entities will be allowed to sell cannabis amongst each other for resale. 

NCDHHS gets a 10% cut of the medical cannabis enterprise, and all cannabis companies operating in the state would pay the department a $50,000 fee, “plus $5,000 for each production facility or medical cannabis center the applicant proposes to operate under the license” and annual renewal fees. 

According to N.C. Insider, the judiciary reviewed the newest version of the bill Aug. 18, but hasn’t yet scheduled the vote that would send the Compassionate Care Act to the healthcare committee. 

READ MORE: Backed by local Republicans, medical weed bill notches another victory

READ MORE :Rabon and Lee’s medical cannabis bill earns bipartisan praise, gets spotlight in committee

Click Here for more information about the N.C. Compassionate Care Act. 

The list of “debilitating medical conditions” that would permit a cannabis prescription. The Compassionate Use Advisory Board was formerly called the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, until it was changed prior to the latest hearing. (Port City Daily/SB711)

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