Should North Carolina Legalize Medical Marijuana?
North Carolina voters may get to decide to allow medical marijuana this fall. If the bill passes and the voters decide to enact the legislation, North Carolina would become one of twenty-eight states that have legalized medical marijuana. They would join Florida as the only other state in the south to have a medical marijuana program.
What’s the Marijuana Status Timeline in North Carolina
Representative Kelly Alexander of Charlotte, North Carolina, has been a longtime supporter of Medical Marijuana legislation. He has introduced bills several times that have never even made it out of committee. Back in February, Alexander and ten other Democrats filed a bill that would allow for patients with certain conditions to access medical marijuana. However, it is a long road, particularly since the State House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, who historically lack support for such initiatives.
There is hope, though, that the legislation might make it out for voters to decide. In 2015, the state legalized the hemp industry and allowed neurologists to prescribe hemp or CBD oil to patients suffering from seizures. This is despite a bill similar to the one put forth in February that was unanimously rejected by both Democrats and Republicans back in 2015.
This isn’t the first time that Alexander has attempted to sponsor legislation that would change existing marijuana laws. Back in 2013, he proposed legislation that would change penalties for certain amounts of marijuana. That bill also included a provision for first-time offenders charged with possession to get the offense cleared from their criminal records. The bill did not make it out of committee to go before voters.
The current bill is different from previous bills. Previously, the bills were authored in such a way as to leave the decision of legalization to lawmakers. This bill is authored to vote not on legalizing medical marijuana, but to decide on whether or not to allow North Carolina voters to decide on the matter. This allows politicians who may not want to be associated with supporting such a bill to take a hands-off stance. It puts the decision squarely in the hands of the populace, so they do not have to worry about it harming their reelection efforts.
What are the Pros of Legalization?
How could North Carolina benefit from the legalization of Medical Marijuana? It could lessen the impact of opioid dependency and overdose deaths. In 2015, medication and drug overdoses claimed more than 1,200 lives in North Carolina. Putting this in perspective, overdoses claim twice as many lives as murders in the state. The most prevalent drug involved in overdose death is heroin, specifically heroin that is laced with fentanyl.
In North Carolina, the problem of opioid dependency might be worse than in other states. CDC data indicates that for every 100 people in the state, 97 have had a prescription for painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin. The legalization of medical marijuana could have a huge impact on opioid dependency according to a recent study.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that in states where medical marijuana was legalized, deaths from opioid overdose fell by an average of 25%.
While some argue that marijuana, even if legalized only for specific medical conditions, is a gateway towards harder drugs, this study indicates that for some, it can be a way out of dependency.
Another way that North Carolina could benefit is in the number of arrests for marijuana would decline. FBI data reveals that 99 of 100 marijuana arrests are made under state, and not federal, marijuana law. This could free up law enforcement efforts to be focused on more worthwhile pursuits.
Nationally, a full 93% of Americans support the legalization of medical marijuana according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Closer to home, in a poll commissioned by NORML of North Carolina, support for medical marijuana is up to 69% among North Carolina voters. This is up 12% from two years ago.
So What’s the Current Status of Marijuana?
Under the new bill, patients would be required to see a licensed physician in order to obtain their medical marijuana prescription. They would also have to suffer from one of the ailments listed in the bill. Once prescribed, they would have to obtain the product from a state-licensed “medical cannabis center.” This is a bit stricter than the medical marijuana initiatives in other states, such as California. The list of acceptable conditions treatable by medical marijuana will also likely be shorter.
Whether you support the legalization of marijuana outright or support only the availability of medical marijuana, it is clear that more and more states are giving consideration to this important medical matter. Despite the misconception about medical cannabis more than half of the United States have legalized medical marijuana but it still remains strictly illegal in several states. Keep in mind that even if states legalize recreationally or medically, marijuana still remains illegal at the federal level as well.
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