Dubbed the NC Compassionate Care Act, Senate Bill 711, which passed on a voice vote in the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon, would make North Carolina the 37th state in the country to legalize marijuana use for residents with debilitating medical conditions.

It’s the first time in North Carolina that a medical marijuana bill has been co-sponsored by powerful Senate Republicans as well as Senate Democrats. Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), the chairman of the Senate Rules and Operations committee, is joined by Sens. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) and Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) as primary sponsors.

SB 711 still places heavy limitations on who would  have access to medical marijuana within the state, but it mandates that anyone who has a debilitating medical condition, or anyone who is a registered caregiver, can receive a registry ID card to obtain the drug. 

Today’s committee hearing began with statements from members of the  committee. Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) noted that, though she is still dissatisfied with the bill’s restrictions, she knows that a compromise must happen and is grateful that the bill is moving forward. 

“We don’t want to continue to make criminals out of caregivers, and patients, and war veterans,” she said.

Republican Sen. Kathy Harrington from Gaston held back tears as she discussed her own personal connection to the bill. Her husband was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma and medical marijuana would have been helpful as he went through cancer treatment.

“If you had asked me six months ago if I would have been in favor of this bill, I probably would have said no. But life comes at you fast,” she said.

Public speakers were also allowed to address the committee. The first few speakers opposed the bill, citing the public health risks of marijuana and stating that passing the bill would open a “Pandora’s Box” for  more destructive drugs.

Chris Suttle went fully in the other direction, calling the bill an “insult” to North Carolinians for the continued limitations it continues to impose on medical cannabis use. Suttle says he was diagnosed with a brain tumor four years ago, and that medical marijuana is the reason that he is alive. 

“This is not the legalization that we deserve in the state that we love,” Suttle said.

Following comments from 11 speakers, most in support of the bill, the committee passed the bill on a voice vote, to applause from the large audience of constituents who had come to speak and watch. It heads to further committees for consideration before it could be brought to the Senate floor this session. 

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