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NC's medical marijuana bill likely to get more traction this session

A hand cradles the leaves of a marijuana plant.
Crystalweed Cannabis

The North Carolina Senate plans to vote this week on a bill legalizing medical marijuana. It could have a better shot at becoming law this year than in previous sessions.

The bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana, but only for patients with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and AIDS.

Senate leader Phil Berger told WUNC that he’s confident the bill will pass his chamber. A similar measure passed the Senate last year with bipartisan support.

“I don’t know that the change in membership here is going to change the outcome,” Berger said.

But House Republicans opposed the change last year.

House Speaker Tim Moore says it could now get a better reception.

“This year, the attitudes have changed," Moore said. "And I think some folks have had an opportunity — once they were back home and met with folks — to see that there’s some potentially legitimate uses for this."

Moore said the proposal needs to have tight controls on the distribution network. He wants to make sure the change doesn’t lead to recreational marijuana.

The goal, Moore argues, is “having enough distributors that can prescribe, that you don’t have some sort of monopoly there of some kind, but at the same time not just throwing the door wide open where you have these [marijuana dispensaries] on every street corner.”

Medical marijuana would also generate tens of millions of dollars in fee revenue for the state, according to a legislative analysis. Patients, doctors, distributors and others would all pay registration fees. Some of that money could help fund a cannabis research program at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is part of the legislation.

Senators revised the bill last week with recommendations from the Sheriffs' Association. The vote is set for Tuesday.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.