Last-minute push aims to derail N.C. medical marijuana bill
North Carolina's medical marijuana legislation might not be inevitable
North Carolina's medical marijuana legislation might not be inevitable. With the state House set for a key vote on the issue in the coming weeks, there's a new, last-minute push in the works to scuttle North Carolina's medical marijuana bill.
Both Republican and Democratic party leaders support legalizing medical marijuana through Senate Bill 3, which would create a sprawling commercial industry to produce and distribute the drug throughout the state. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate last month, 36-10.
However, opponents of the bill believe there may be enough individual Republicans and Democrats in the House to keep it from becoming law.
Though few have come forward publicly against the bill, there's a growing sense of unease on both the right and the left around North Carolina's plan.
"I think most people are really uncomfortable with this. They're really uncomfortable with the idea of legalizing more drugs," said Luke Niforatos, executive vice president at Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Washington-based advocacy group that fights the expansion of legal marijuana nationally. The organization was founded by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) a decade ago.
SAM, as the organization is known, primarily takes a scientific and medical approach to marijuana, opposing its expansion recreationally or medically across the country. It educates lawmakers on scientific studies that refute marijuana's therapeutic benefits — such as studies that show marijuana can exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans and have a negative effect on their mental health.
The group is now the group taking the lead on marshaling opposition to medical marijuana in North Carolina.
Their primary obstacle is N.C. Sen. Bill Rabon, the powerful Brunswick County Republican who has made medical marijuana his primary issue. Dubbing it the "Compassionate Care Act," Rabon argues that smoking marijuana can help ease the pain of terminally ill patients and people with other, painful conditions.
However, opponents argue that legalization plans like North Carolina's give the commercial marijuana industry too large a foothold in the state and the go-ahead to pour tens of millions of dollars into marketing and lobbying.
"The reason why we're seeing support for medical [marijuana] is because of compassion. The industry is really using that as a bait and switch," Niforatos said. "You're allowing this industry to sell and market and promote super-high potency products in your state, under the guise of medicine."
Should Senate Bill 3 be passed, the state would sell $50,000 licenses to manufacture or sell medical marijuana in the state through a network of dispensaries. A new governor-appointed bureaucracy, the Compassionate Use Advisory Board, would take the lead on setting regulations, particularly the medical conditions that qualify for marijuana use. The state Department of Health and Human Services would be tasked with setting the guidelines for issuing the cards needed to buy weed legally.
That's exactly where the marijuana industry likes to operate, Niforatos warns. In other states that have legalized medical marijuana, the industry's attorneys have been brutally effective in expanding the regulations to allow more and more people to buy the drug.
"It's not about the patients. Everybody wants to help the patients," Niforatos said. "It's about the industry. They will spread the drugs, promote them, and try to expand."
The medical marijuana bill has yet to see a committee vote in the House, and it's unclear where exactly House Speaker Tim Moore stands on the issue. The measure failed in the House last year.
Law enforcement groups like the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association have yet to take a strong position on the bill, despite national concerns about the impact on impaired driving. They have, however, suggested minor amendments.
4 things of note
Joel Ford on Democratic Party: "You have to be all-in. There is no compromise."
What's happening: Former state Sen. Joel Ford backed up Rep. Tricia Cotham's assessment of today's N.C. Democratic Party during an interview with Tim Boyum of Spectrum News on the "Tying it Together" podcast last week. The Mecklenburg Democrat never switched parties, but earned the left's ire for his advocacy for voter ID, among other issues. Ford was also appointed to the UNC Board of Governors by Republican leaders in the General Assembly.
"You have to be all-in. There is no compromise," Ford said on the podcast, then going on to describe the party as out-of-touch with most North Carolinians.
"The Democratic Party in this state and across this country, they're tone-deaf," he said. "The No 1 issue still is crime and inflation. But what are they focused on? They're focused on a segment of our population that represents less than 1% of the population."
Why it matters: While no other Democrats have indicated they will switch parties, there is a growing contingent who are willing to speak publicly about their disaffection with party leadership. Party leaders, however, have done little to try to reconcile with them.
What comes next: This split between disaffected moderates and the ascendant liberal wing of the party could come to a head as early as the 2024 primary season. Expect to see progressives backed by Gov. Roy Cooper and the state party launch campaigns against seated Democrat legislators in the coming months. For Ford's part, he's been rumored to consider higher office — such as lieutenant governor — on the Republican ticket, but a run is unlikely in 2024.
U.S. Sen. Ted Budd endorses Donald Trump for president
What's happening: U.S. Sen. Ted Budd put out a press release on Thursday formally endorsing former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential race. "Hardworking, everyday families need a return of the America First agenda to restore prosperity and peace," Budd wrote. You may recall that Trump's endorsement propelled Budd to a resounding victory in his 2022 primary race for U.S. Senate against former Gov. Pat McCrory.
Why this matters: This is a sign that the Trump campaign is now actively trying to reassert control of the direction of the Republican Party in North Carolina. The Trump camp demands loyalty and is likely to get it.
What comes next: North Carolina Republicans will need to game plan for another election cycle with Trump at the top of the ticket. While Trump himself would be likely to carry the state, his presence on the ballot makes progress in suburban areas that much more difficult.
House Speaker Tim Moore visits Ukraine
What’s happening: House Speaker Tim Moore traveled to Ukraine last week (the General Assembly’s “spring break”) to meet with political leaders there and to see humanitarian relief efforts coordinated in part by North Carolina-based organizations like Samartian’s Purse. The trip was on Moore’s personal dime, he said on Facebook. “I genuinely pray for peace for their nation and hope this conflict ends soon and does not spread into a larger war,” Moore wrote.
Why this matters: The trip is another indication of Moore’s national ambitions. It’s no secret he’d really like a seat in the U.S. Congress. Most Congressional Republicans have been major boosters of the war in Ukraine, though there is a growing isolationist sentiment in the party.
What comes next: The General Assembly will redraw Congressional maps later this year. Look for a Cleveland County-area seat again.
"Sue-till-Blue" strategy ramps up yet again
What's happening: The far-left American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the implementation of North Carolina's new anti-rioting law, which was enacted without Gov. Roy Cooper's signature earlier this spring. The law increases the legal penalties for taking part in riots that result in injury or significant property damage.
Why this matters: The court system has been a significant roadblock toward the General Assembly's efforts to enact conservative legislation. While voters eventually flipped control of the state Supreme Court into more reasonable hands, the federal court system remains unpredictable and dependent on the judge who hears the case.
What comes next: If the past is any indication, there will likely be a lot of flip-flops with this legislation, with different judges alternating between blocking the bill and putting it back into effect. We'll see what the status is the next time violent riots break out in North Carolina.
1 good idea from another state
Colorado considers cap on medical debt interest rates
The Colorado state House has approved a bill that would cap the maximum interest rate that hospitals can charge on medical debt at 3%, Fox News reports. It’s one of several bills making their way through various states aimed at helping people struggling with medical bills, one of the leading causes of bankruptcy. The Fox report says North Carolina legislators have considered a similar cap at 5%. Conservative lawmakers can take a heavier hand with regulating this type of debt because nonprofit hospitals receive numerous tax breaks and other advantages from the state.
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