Return to Ballot
May 18th 2022, the North Carolina General Assembly returns to the capitol for their annual short session. On the list of topics they plan to discuss: legalizing cannabis medically and the possible extension of legislation surrounding hemp farming, which is set to expire June 30th of this year. The progression of SB 711 (North Carolina’s Compassionate Care Act) stalled in last year’s senate, but the primary sponsors, Reb. Sen. Michael Lee and Bill Rabon, are optimistic that the bill will pass during this year’s short session. It has massive support from North Carolinians, too; 72% of the state’s populous is in favor of marijuana legalization. Although there is massive support for its passage, some NC natives say that it puts farmers and businesses out of the running in reference to obtaining licensure. Only 10 applicants will be awarded operational provisions should SB 711 come to pass, putting the nearly 2,000 registered hemp farmers out of opportunity to participate in the medical cannabis industry. There is also concern for the legalized hemp market in and how/if new legislation will affect its current operations.
A Breakdown of SB 711: NC’s Compassionate Care Act
The purpose of Senate Bill 711, or more formally known as NC’s Compassionate Care Act, is to allow patients with qualifying medical conditions access to medical marijuana through a regulated supply-chain system. Qualifying medical conditions include: cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, sickle cell anemia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and PTSD. Exemptions for bedridden/hospice patients are also included in this legislation. SB 711 is inclusive of certain provisions for veterans. A group of local, NC veterans spoke before council advocating for marijuana’s effectiveness for treating symptoms of PTSD and other ailments in relation to combat. If passed, the bill would create an advisory committee whose responsibility it would be to process all data surrounding the effectiveness of marijuana as treatment, as well as report to the number of prescribing physicians and patients. Prescribing physicians are required to participate in a 3 hour, continuing education course on medical cannabis.
Qualifiers for NC’s Medical Marijuana Program:
I: Patients over the age of 18 or under, with parental consent; parents of children under the age of 18 must also mitigate and monitor consumption.
II: To legally obtain access to cannabis, patients must have a medical marijuana card from the Department of Health and Human Services. In order to be approved, the applicant must complete a formal application and have a written request for treatment from a physician.
III: The patient must demonstrate need and have one or more of the qualifying conditions: cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, sickle cell anemia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and PTSD.
Medical Cannabis Licensing and Regulations
Medical suppliers need to demonstrate at least five years’ experience in the cannabis industry in order to qualify for application in the state. Applicants should be cognizant of the $50,000 fee, in addition to $5,000 for each production facility or medical cannabis center operated under the licensee. Applicants must also prove that they have been a North Carolina resident for at least 2 years. If approved, the supplier must pay a monthly fee of up to 10% of all gross sales to the Department of Health and Human Services;, in addition to a $10,000 annual renewal fee of their licensure. All cannabis/infused products would be exempt from sales and use tax.
The Medical Cannabis Production Commission is allowed to issue up to 10 licenses for medical cannabis suppliers; of those 10, each are allowed to operate up to 4 medical cannabis centers, two of which must be in Tier I counties. (The tier system defines a counties’ socioeconomic status. Such factors contributing to its rank include: average median income, unemployment rate, population percentage, and property tax.)
Medical Cannabis Production Commission
If NC’s Compassionate Care Act were to become law, it would also enact the Medical Cannabis Production Commission; this committee of 9 individuals would be responsible for establishing qualifiers and continual requirements for medical cannabis suppliers, their production processes, and their facilities. Geographically, the committee must also ensure proper distribution of facilities throughout the State; this contributes greatly to patient accessibility.
The committee is also responsible for drafting a 13-member Compassionate Use Advisory Board whose responsibility it would be to add new qualifying medical conditions to be prescribed marijuana as treatment.
While THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, remains federally illegal, there are analogs of THC readily accessible to the public – you can visit your local dispensary or smoke shop to purchase Delta 8 THC, Delta 10 THC, and other cannabinoid derivatives. The law protecting THC derivatives, which are synthesized from industrialized hemp, expires June 30th. The North Carolina State Assembly can vote to extend these laws, however their plan of action is not yet known to the public.