RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – At 10 a.m. Tuesday morning members of the North Carolina House Health Committee will pick up medical marijuana and pass it around the room – one of two widely discussed bills scheduled to be discussed in the General Assembly on Tuesday.
The members of the House may not actually ingest – inhale is too limiting a word – the marijuana bill, but they hope to digest the issues involving Senate Bill 3, the “North Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” which was passed by the Senate at the end of March.
The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting lists the bill for “Discussion Only,” and that’s all the members are going to do, Chair Larry Potts (R-Davidson) has said.
The House and Senate will gavel into session after their Memorial Day break at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and the agenda for committees has been fleshed out to include another notable bill: House Bill 347, the sports wagering bill that the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee passed along last week with a couple of adjustments and could be nearing a full vote.
Medical marijuana has been passed back and forth for several years, and its latest form passed the Senate on March 1 with robust bipartisan support – the votes on both second and third readings in the Senate were 36-10 – and, pardon, high hopes.
Since then the bill has sat in the House Rules Committee, and no one involved in either chamber would say anything about when it might be considered.
What’s in the bill
SB 3 is designed to allow physicians to prescribe cannabis products – including marijuana to smoke – for patients suffering from among 15 specific conditions listed in the bill. They include maladies such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, ALS, sickle-cell, Parkinson’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis.
Some critics have suggested there is not enough proof that medical marijuana is effective for some of them, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder – or PTSD – and that diagnosis has stricter requirements.
The bill calls for 10 licensed dealers for the various approved cannabis products, and each of those can have up to eight outlets. Those numbers might need to be addressed to reach saturation across all 100 counties. There are tight regulatory specifications.
Bill sponsors have been careful to remind their counterparts that this bill is not authorization of recreational marijuana, which is legal in 22 states, and that it specifies licensing and educational requirements, ownership requirements – 50% must be in-state residents for at least two years – and the criminal and legal penalties for those who violate them.
An analysis of the final version of SB 3 calls for implementation in 2024 and for the state to realize about $44.4 million in new revenue by 2027-28. Retail sales are expected to reach about $504.3 million by 2028-29, based on a rate of $287 per ounce, to serve a projected 214,000 patients.
During the bill’s journey through the Senate, numerous stakeholders made impassioned pleas for and against the bill – sufferers like the bill, but many oppose it on religious and legal grounds – and Potts is well aware of its implied controversy.
What will happen?
This issue is not new. Nearly a year ago – on June 8, 2022 – the Senate passed SB 711, 35-10, but the House didn’t take it up before adjournment about three weeks later.
“This is up for discussion,” Potts told WGHP last week about SB 3. “There will be a limited time for committee members and discussion from anyone from the public who wants to comment.
“The bill won’t be amended or voted on because of the impact of the bill and the strong feelings on each side. I thought we needed to have a discussion.”
Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), the House majority whip – who pushes votes on bills – said in a text message that the bill hasn’t been discussed “in leadership or in caucus. So I’m not sure what our plans are. I believe we are going to discuss it next week.”
When SB 3 cleared the Senate, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told The News & Observer in Raleigh that he thinks this bill has “decent prospects of passage. … Last year when we didn’t take it up, it was overwhelmingly opposed by most of the caucus,” Moore said.
“Attitudes have changed, 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’s spokesperson did not respond last week to an email seeking a status report on what might happen with the bill.
Cecil Brockman (D-High Point), who is on the Health Committee said he believes the bill will get a floor vote eventually, “and if it does, I believe it will pass.”
Wagering on sports gambling
The Senate Finance Committee will discuss HB 347, the sports gambling bill, at 1 p.m. Tuesday – the only item on its agenda – and then the Rules Committee has it up for consideration at 2:30 p.m. If the bill gets OKs from both committees, then it would move to a floor vote, but none of that necessarily is a sure bet.
Although HB 347 had passed the House on March 29 in a vote of 64-45, with 11 members not participating, there were 30 Democrats who voted for the bill, and 20 Republicans voted against it.
And you may recall that last summer a similar bill that was created in the Senate failed in a very close vote in the House. Senate Bill 38, which adapted a bill already passed narrowly by the Senate (SB 688), escaped its second reading in the House, 51-50 (with 19 members not even voting), before being sent back to the Rules Committee, where it died as the session ended.
Last Wednesday the Commerce and Insurance Committee changed HB 347 by adopting an amendment presented by Sen. Jim Perry (R-Beaufort) to expand the revenue plan for the bill and to add horse racing for simulcast wagering.
Sports gambling would generate revenue through a $1 million licensing fee for 10 to 12 betting rooms and a “privilege tax” on income, which the Senate’s amendment elevated from 14% to 18%. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), had said could plan could earn $60 million to $80 million annually for the state.
After discussion of the medical marijuana bill, Potts would have to schedule a vote, which could occur on Thursday morning and next Tuesday. Passage would move it to Rules for a final nod before a floor vote.
Any amendments or changes approved by the House would have to go back to the Senate for final approval before the bill would move to Gov. Roy Cooper, who has supported medical marijuana.
Ditto on the sports gambling bill, although in the opposite workflow. If the Senate votes on the bill this week – that could occur perhaps on Thursday – then the amendments would have to be approved by the House before the Cooper could sign that bill. He has supported the law.