A state bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal use is picking up support across the state, including from around Cleveland County.
In April, Senate Bill 711, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, was filed. The bill would allow for the use of medicinal marijuana in the state, as well as limited growing of the plant for medicinal use.
It is hardly the first bill to attempt to make marijuana legal in some form or another, but SB 711 does have something previous bills do not — actual support. The bill was introduced by one of the legislature’s most powerful Republicans, Sen. Bill Rabon, and has support from other prominent members of the party.
If passed and signed into law, the bill would make medical marijuana available to patients suffering from a variety of ailments, including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease and Parkinson’s disease — all of which could see greater relief through cannabis than other pharmaceuticals.
“We always talk about in conservative medicine we are so much better taking things from our own ground that is grown versus something that is a chemically synthesized product or pharmaceutical,” said Dr. Rich Berkowitz, a chiropractic physician in Shelby. “You just gotta know flat out that dealing naturally is going to be better off than chemically whenever possible. There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel with cannabis.”
People looking for pain relief through weed isn’t anything new. Josh Biddix, co-owner of Broad River Hemp, has to turn them down almost daily.
“And a lot of it is cancer patients, severe chronic pain, ALS, stuff like that,” he said.
While the hemp-based products companies like Broad River Hemp carry are often used as a form of pain relief, Biddix said he hopes the state will legalize medicinal marijuana to get those people stronger, more effective relief, particularly those in later-stage care for cancer.
“These are not people looking to get stoned. They are just looking for pain relief,” he said.
A notable population looking for that pain relief is the state’s veteran population. Jake Giles, a Marine Corps veteran and regular volunteer with veteran’s groups, said he is throwing his support behind the compassionate care act in part because of his experiences with veterans suffering wartime injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m sure a lot of them older gentlemen with limbs missing still have phantom pains, that would help them. Some are cancer patients and I know several who have died in last few years, and I’m sure it would help with appetite and ease pain,” Giles said. (Marijuana) is more and more common place, it’s not a new thing in other states. I just think the vets in particular could benefit as much as anybody. We ought to take care of them, and it’s the more humane way to do it.”
Legal versus illegal
A push for legalized marijuana has grown in recent years. As of this year 36 states and four territories allow for medicinal use of cannabis and 17 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to regulate adult use of cannabis.
Marijuana is still illegal in North Carolina, though it has in some ways been decriminalized. Possessing marijuana carries penalties ranging from no jail time to 21 months depending on individual criminal records and amount possessed.
“With New York and Virginia having just, in different ways, legalized it, we hope North Carolina can jump on the train of legalization,” said Laura White, owner of Soul Addict, a hemp grower and producer. “When you have a little more THC in your products a lot of times what we see is patients are able to find higher levels of relief.”
Berkowitz, White and Biddix said they have known people to go outside of the law and purchase marijuana with the intent to self-medicate, mostly with positive results for the user.
But purchasing drugs from an unregulated market and without guidance from a medical professional carries significant risks.
“Buying it off the black market, you don’t know what is in it. You read about people lacing stuff with fentanyl and people overdosing,” said Biddix. “If it is legalized it would guarantee people are buying something that is safer, lab tested, more carefully grown plants for treatment.”
As of Friday the Compassionate Care Act was still listed as being in the Committee for Rules and Operations for the Senate. From that committee it can either be tabled or sent to the Senate for debate and a possible vote.
In order to become law it will need to be passed in the House of Representatives and Senate and be signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.