RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – After nearly 90 days, members of the North Carolina House are now ready to talk about medical marijuana, and it appears for the immediate future that talking is all members are going to do. They aren’t blowing smoke about that.

The House Health Committee has Senate Bill 3, the “North Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” on the agenda for its meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The agenda item has this footnote: “(Discussion Only).”

But discussion represents a lot more than what had been happening since March 1, when the Senate passed SB 3 and sent it to the House. There was bipartisan support – the votes on both second and third readings in the Senate were 36-10 – and high hopes.

Rep. Larry Potts (R-Davidson)

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.

Now comes the calendar annotation, and District 81 Rep. Larry Potts (R-Davidson), the committee’s chair, said that talking was all that is going to happen Tuesday.

“This is up for discussion,” Potts told WGHP. “There will be a limited time for committee members and discussion from anyone from the public who wants to comment.”

Sen. Bill Rabon is the author of the medical marijuana bill. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP, File)

SB 3, sponsored by Sens. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), Sen. Mike Lee (R-New Hanover) and Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem), 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 statesand 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.

Needed discussion

“The bill won’t be amended or voted on because of the impact of the bill and the strong feelings on each side,” Potts said. “I thought we need to have a discussion.”

He said this process would allow the bill to “get a hearing. … I’m not sure what the sentiments [of committee members] are. There are people on both sides of the issue. It probably would be a close vote.”

NC House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland)

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.

He told the newspaper that in the House, with numerous new members, “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.”

It was nearly a year ago – on June 8, 2022, that the Senate passed SB 711 by a vote of 35-10. It was sent to the House Rules Committee and never got a whiff of a vote before adjournment about three weeks later.

What might happen?

Moore’s spokesperson did not respond Thursday to an email seeking a status report on what might happen with the bill.

Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), the House majority whip – the person who makes sure votes are lined up – 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.”

State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) says she sees the  “legitimate use” for medical marijuana and has worked for 20 years to pass a bill, ever since former Rep. Earl Jones of Greensboro first introduced the idea.

“As far as I can tell, the bill is narrower than I would have liked, but I am grateful we might be finally pricing this much-needed relief for those who are suffering,” Harrison told WGHP earlier this spring.

Unless Moore takes some action to remove the bill from the committee and reassign it, the Health Committee will give SB 3 its full review, Potts said. The committee meets every Tuesday morning, and “it could be brought up [for a vote] the following Tuesday or the second Tuesday,” he said.

Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-High Point) (NCGA)

After that, its path through the House is uncertain.

WGHP reached out to the five representatives of the Piedmont Triad who are members of the Health Committee – Reps. Sam Watford (R-Davidson), Reece Pyrtle (R-Rockingham), Julia Howard (R-Davie), Cecil Brockman (D-High Point) and Potts – but only Potts and Brockman replied.

“I’m hearing it [SB 3] will get a floor vote, and if it does, I believe it will pass,” Brockman said.