By Bruce Mildwurf
Raleigh, N.C. — A state lawmaker wants to put the issue of medical marijuana before North Carolina voters as a proposed constitutional amendment.
Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, filed House Bill 1161 on Tuesday calling for a referendum on the November ballot to legalize the cultivation and use of marijuana in North Carolina to treat more than two dozen “debilitating medical conditions,” from cancer and Lou Gehrig’s disease to incontinence and sleep apnea.
Alexander filed a medical marijuana bill last year that was quickly defeated in committee. He said putting it to a statewide vote should give lawmakers some cover in voting for a controversial measure.
“They may think somebody’s going to come along in an election and try to say that they’re stoners or something,” he said Wednesday. “I call it the Cheech and Chong effect.”
Alexander noted that some polls show a majority of North Carolinians favor legalizing medical marijuana and called on fellow lawmakers to let everyone decide instead of snuffing out the issue in the General Assembly.
“If indeed you believe the will of the people, then let’s vote this through and let’s put it where the people make the ultimate decision,” he said.
Constitutional amendments are extremely difficult to pass, requiring super-majorities in both the state House and Senate before going to the voters.
Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, said she’s confident that Alexander’s proposal “will never see the light of day,” but she fears that it could sink a bill she plans to file next week.
McElraft wants to legalize an oil extracted from a specific strain of marijuana to treat children who suffer a form of epilepsy that causes dozens of seizures every day.
Some North Carolina families have moved to Colorado to obtain Realm Oil, which they say dramatically reduce their children’s seizures. The oil is legal in Colorado but is illegal in North Carolina.
Realm Oil is made from a strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web that has extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but has extraordinarily high levels of CBD, or cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component that research shows has a growing number of therapeutic benefits.
“You can drink the whole bottle and never get high,” McElraft said.
She opposes widespread legalization of medical marijuana but said something like Realm Oil, which would still be illegal to produce in North Carolina, should be allowed for pediatric patients.
“They’ve tried every drug possible for these children, and nothing has been helping them,” she said. “We finally have found something that is helping.”
Alexander said he will support McElraft’s bill but said he would like to see it help more people.
Liz Gorman, who took her daughter, Maddie, to Colorado last year so Maddie could get Realm Oil, said she admires Alexander’s devotion to his cause but hopes it doesn’t endanger McElraft’s bill.
“The bills being introduced by Rep Alexander and that of Rep McElraft are completely separate and substantially different,” Gorman wrote in an email. “(We have) worked tirelessly alongside Rep McElraft to craft a bill which would allow limited access to a medicine (CBD oil) that could change the lives of children with catastrophic epilepsy in NC. We are very hopeful that this can be accomplished this session.”
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