Medical marijuana boosters rally at NC legislature
The head of North Carolina's Democratic Party says the Republican-controlled state legislature should give a bill to legalize medical marijuana an honest up or down vote.
Democratic Party chair Randy Voller spoke Tuesday to about 200 people who rallied at the Legislative Building in Raleigh in support of making North Carolina the first Southern state to legalize the possession and use of small amounts of pot with a doctor's prescription.
The Enact Medical Cannabis Act was filed by two Democratic lawmakers last week. A past marijuana legalization bill died in committee without ever coming to the floor for a vote.
"I would call upon my peers in the Republican Party to unite with the Democrats and do what's right for North Carolinians and pass this bill," Voller said. "This is something we can work together on."
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, with about a dozen more currently considering legislation. Passage of a medical marijuana bill in North Carolina has generally been considered a longshot, especially since Republicans won control of both legislative chambers in 2010.
But advocates point to a growing body of scientific evidence on the medicinal use of cannabinoids for treating a host of physical and psychological maladies, from multiple sclerosis and certain types of cancer to Alzheimer's Disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Supporters of the measure cited results from a January survey by Public Policy Polling that found 58 percent of North Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. They also pointed to estimates suggesting the state could earn as much as $250 million a year from sales taxes and licensing fees on marijuana dispensaries.
Those who came to the legislature Tuesday hailed from across the state, some in wheelchairs and many wearing hats or uniforms identifying themselves as military veterans.
Perry Parks, president of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients' Network, was a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam who suffered from chronic back pain for years before discovering marijuana.
"This is a nonpartisan issue," said Parks, who is from Rockingham. "Sickness affects everybody."
Bill sponsor Rep. Kelly Alexander encouraged supporters to go door-to-door in the Legislative Building to press lawmakers to allow the measure to emerge from the House rules committee, where it is currently pigeonholed.
"It's like a black hole. Light goes in and nothing comes out," said Alexander, D-Mecklenburg. "Let them know you are voters and you would like a hearing on this bill."
GOP House speaker Thom Tillis said last month he wouldn't rule out a well-crafted bill that allowed cancer patients and others with serious illnesses from having access to marijuana as long as strong safeguards were in place to prevent widespread use.
"There is a sensitivity to people who for palliative care and a number of other reasons, there seems to be science to suggest that maybe this is an alternative," Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said Jan. 29. "What I have no intention of allowing to pass would be bills that would lay the groundwork for widespread availability of marijuana. ... Whether we can make any progress, we'll figure out as we go through the session."
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed.
Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck