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Most NC legislators back medical marijuana, but procedural hurdle could block it

Marijuana grows in the home of two medical marijuana patients in Medford, Ore.
Jeff Barnard
Marijuana grows in the home of two medical marijuana patients in Medford, Ore.

Legislation to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina has gotten stuck in the House.

The bill has already passed the state Senate with bipartisan support, and if it’s brought up for a floor vote in the House, it likely has enough votes to pass. But House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, told reporters he won’t let the bill move forward until a majority of GOP legislators agree to vote yes — a rule he says he applies to every bill that comes through the House.

So far, that mass agreement hasn't happened, although a majority in the GOP caucus have said they’d let the bill move to the floor.

The bill’s sponsor, powerful Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, isn’t happy about the roadblock. On Wednesday, he added an amendment to an unrelated House health care bill to prevent it from becoming law unless marijuana legalization also becomes law.

That bill, which deals with nursing regulations, is sponsored by the chairs of the House Health Committee — which happens to be the committee where the marijuana bill needs a vote to move forward.

"Maybe some folks will kind of look up and pay attention now," he said. "We have work to be done, we don’t need to stonewall. ... They’re both healthcare bills, and I think they both should be passed this session."

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

Rabon says he hasn’t ruled out using that approach on other bills to pressure House leaders to take action. Time is running out — legislative leaders are hoping to end this year's session next month if they can come to a budget agreement. And many legislative committees are slowing down their work as attention turns to the budget and a handful of bills that both chambers are eager to pass.

Rabon, however, seems to have some confidence the bill will ultimately pass. In an appointments bill he filed this week that passed the Senate Thursday, several people were appointed to the new Compassionate Use Advisory Board and Medical Cannabis Production Commission that would be created to oversee legalization and regulation.

Rabon’s bill would keep production and distribution strictly controlled. It would only be available to patients with debilitating or terminal conditions such as cancer, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder.

An appointed oversight board, called the Compassionate Use Advisory Board, would have the power to add additional conditions to the list. Doctors prescribing marijuana would be required to take a 10-hour class. Patients would be issued an ID card, and no one would be allowed inside marijuana dispensaries without a card.

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