North Carolinians are increasingly backing a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in their state, momentum that advocates say could signal a turning point for lawmakers who have tried for years to push legal pot through the Legislature, but to no avail. About 150 people showed up Thursday outside the Statehouse in Raleigh to voice their support for House Bill 78, filed in February, which would allow patients with certain chronic ailments to access medicinal marijuana. The crowd included U.S. veterans with the group North Carolina Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (N.C. RAMP), according to WRAL-TV.
"I think the public's evolving. I think we'll get there," Democratic state Rep. Pricey Harrison, who co-sponsored HB 78 and has sponsored previous medical marijuana bills in North Carolina without success, told WRAL-TV. The gathering Thursday was the largest turnout of marijuana reform advocates in years, the news organization reported.
"We won't get there this year, but it's a grass-roots movement building support,” Harrison said.
Democratic state Rep. Kelly Alexander introduced HB 78 in February, citing recent polling that showed roughly 70 percent of North Carolinians were in favor of allowing doctors to write marijuana prescriptions. Alexander said legalizing and taxing cannabis could bring in as much as $100 million in tax revenue, although he didn’t specify a time frame. Twenty-three states in the U.S. allow medical marijuana to be prescribed.
The veterans who demonstrated Thursday were mostly retired officers, some of whom had suffered injuries for which marijuana offered relief.
"It's all over my body. I'm in pain right now," Edwin McClannan, a retired Army first sergeant whose spine was severely injured during a parachute accident, told the Fayetteville Observer. McClannan said he tried a pot edible once and found relief. "For me, any break in the pain is critical. … But I'm one of those anal-retentive, law-abiding citizens,” he said.
If HB 78 were to pass, it would make North Carolina the first Southeast state to legalize marijuana. But with little support from Republicans in the House, the bill has a long way to go before becoming law. Last summer, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law allowing patients suffering from seizures to use cannabis-derived cannabidiol, a compound found in marijuana.