Raleigh, N.C. — Although legalizing medical marijuana in North Carolina has plenty of popular support, industry groups also are working behind the scenes to move a bill forward in the General Assembly.
The Senate Finance committee is scheduled to hold a Wednesday hearing on Senate Bill 711, the NC Compassionate Care Act, which would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to treat a number of conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Veterans and family and friends of cancer patients have testified in previous legislative hearings about how marijuana was the best treatment for the pain and anxiety brought on by the various ailments. Recent polls have showed 70 percent of North Carolina residents back legalizing medical marijuana in the state.
But industry groups see more green in the effort than just the cannabis – the market in Florida, for example, topped more than $1 billion last year – and they’ve hired at least six high-powered lobbyists to persuade lawmakers to vote for the bill.
Senate Bill 711 would create a regulatory structure for medical marijuana, allowing only 10 “seed-to-sale” providers that would grow, package and distribute the cannabis. Each of them could operate up to four dispensaries across the state.
The limits written into the bill will likely create a fierce competition to be among the initial crop of 10 providers.
A group called NC Families for Medical Cannabis has helped organize the personal stories lawmakers have been hearing. Although the group’s website doesn’t say who’s behind the effort, seven medical cannabis companies recently acknowledged they formed the group. One of those companies is Morrisville-based Root Bioscience, which produces and sells hemp-based products for pain relief.
Garrett Perdue, the son of former Gov. Bev Perdue, is Root Bioscience’s founder and chief executive officer. He said Monday that he’s advocated for medical marijuana in North Carolina since before he started the company, and that continues with NC Families for Medical Cannabis.
“We’re giving a voice to patients, caregivers and veterans in North Carolina who are suffering needlessly,” Garrett Perdue said in a statement to WRAL News. “Our hope is by elevating their stories and making sure lawmakers have the opportunity to hear directly from someone who will benefit from this bill’s passage, qualifying North Carolinians will soon have legal access to medical cannabis.”
The former governor, he said, isn’t involved in the legalization effort but is in favor of it.
Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 711, said he’s mostly talked to constituents, not trade groups, about the issue.
“Anything that is going to produce revenue and, you know, make money for folks will have lobbyists involved,” Nickel said. “I think the challenge we have is just making sure that we do this the right way.”
Medical marijuana could mean green for the state budget as well. The bill would impose a tax of at least 10 percent on sales, but Nickel said there’s no official estimate yet of how much revenue that could generate.
“There’s no extra cost to the taxpayer,” he said, noting the tax would pay for the state’s regulatory efforts. “Then, the extra money will go back into the general fund. So, this will make money for our state, you know, and hopefully allow us to put more money into public education.”