By Jasmin Singh
Members of the North Carolina General Assembly have in the past introduced legislation that would make access to medical cannabis easier.
But the current session is the first time members have proposed a constitutional amendment.
Members of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network came to the legislature this week to make their rounds, advocating for the support of House Bill 1161 , which would put the issue to a vote. The bill, sponsored by Democrats in the state House of Representatives, would call for an amendment to the state constitution to legalize the medical use of cannabis.
Rebecca Forbes, founder and director of the East Coast Chapter of the American Cannabis Coalition, said using cannabis oil kept her lymphoma at bay for five years before she began treatment this spring.
“I’m a five-year cannabis oil survivor,” she said. “I used the oil and stayed alive, so we’re excited and ready for this to happen in North Carolina for the sick.”
Bill sponsor Rep. Carla Cunningham (D-Charlotte), a registered nurse, said she supports the use of medical cannabis for pain relief caused by debilitating diseases like multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I can see that there’s a whole group of people in chronic pain in other states that are benefiting by the use of medical marijuana, but here they cannot do it, and it’s not a good practice,” Cunningham said.
Forbes said legalizing medical cannabis would protect from arrest those who rely on it.
“A lot of us that have found benefits from using the cannabis therapy are having to move to be safe and not be arrested or risk going to jail,” she said. “So this is a big issue for some of us. I don’t want to have to move away.”
Cunningham said that there are no documented negative side effects of medical cannabis, and that it’s therefore unfair to prevent its use.
“Of course we also have … medical issues after the consumption of alcohol, but nobody talks about that,” she said. “We don’t have the proven side effects of medical marijuana, and it’s been around just as long as tobacco has been around; it’s been around just as long as alcohol has been around.”
“I think it’s unreasonable to have a certain group in the population say we can’t accept something that they want to do for themselves,” Cunningham said. “Their bodies are their bodies, so I think they should have the right to use whatever type of pain relief for their selves.”
Putting it to a vote?
The bill was taken up by the judiciary committee on May 22 and is the seventh cannabis bill filed since 2009. Some bills died after being introduced without being heard in committee, while others are still waiting to be heard.
“If this passes, it will put it to a vote to the North Carolina people as a yes-or-no question on November’s ballot, which is pretty significant, because I think that if it is put out here to the people it will pass,” Forbes said.
But Cunningham isn’t as confident.
“Right now, I really don’t see that it will make it out. It would be interesting if it did; I would like for it to,” she said. “If I had to do a scale from one to 10 of likely coming out, I would probably say three or four.”
Despite the odds, Forbes said her organization would continue to advocate for its approval.
“We need support; we need people walking down the halls here every day, because we only have six weeks [in the short session], and that’s not a lot of time,” she said.
And with lots of media coverage from states such as Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana, and Washington, which loosened rules on medical marijuana, Forbes said more people are aware of the issue, and that she believes that will make them more likely to vote in favor of it in November.
“The media is finally reporting a little more on what is going on with our sick and how this can really benefit them, and that the consensus among the people is changing,” she said. “I think that the tide is changing.”