A bill to expand the legal use of medical marijuana in North Carolina passed a first reading in the General Assembly earlier this month.
The recently announced bill—created to benefit seriously ill patients who respond well to cannabis treatment—has received support from portions of the public and policymakers. The bill is intended to help patients suffering from a wide variety of mental and physical ailments, including anorexia, cancer and Crohn’s disease.
“It’s logical. It makes sense,” said Representative Kelly M. Alexander, a Democrat. “It really boils down to the fact that there’s evidence that medical marijuana helps in a number of cases like PTSD and [side effects of] chemotherapy.”
Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the bill is targeted to improve the quality of life of individuals with debilitating diseases, not necessarily the community overall.
He added that there has been inconclusive evidence that regulating medical marijuana might decrease crime rates, but North Carolina’s bill was specifically targeted at critically ill individuals and their families.
Both Alexander and Capecchi refuted the notion that the bill will increase marijuana use in the greater Durham area or in the Duke community.
“There is concern that people will use the law to get [prescriptions unethically], but that concern already exists in the prescription of medicine pill mills,” Capecchi said. “In addition, marijuana is non-lethal and lacks the life-ending side effects that certain prescription medicines have.”
Daniel Perry, Duke’s alcohol and drug senior program coordinator, wrote in an email Tuesday that the public should be informed of the side effects of marijuana consumption, regardless of if it is considered legal or not.
The discussion of this bill—officially called the North Carolina Medical Cannabis Act—comes months after Governor Pat McCrory signed a law allowing limited use of medical marijuana to treat seizures in July.
A portion of Duke students and members of the Durham community will use cannabis recreationally regardless of whether it is legal or not, Perry said.
“I think what the message is with the legalization is what is important,” Perry said. “Just because it is legal does not mean it is safe. Just because it is considered medicinal does not mean you shouldn’t be informed before putting it in your body. That is why there are so many labels and information sheets given when a prescription from a pharmacy is purchased.”
As the bill gains momentum, many Duke students support its cause.
“It’s illogical for the government not to legalize marijuana because we could earn money from taxing it, and we could spend less taxpayer money imprisoning kids who were caught with marijuana. All that does is ruin someone’s life and waste taxpayer money,” freshman Emelina Vienneau said.
Freshman Jamie Barry said that marijuana is prevalent on Duke’s campus currently, and students have access to the drug without medical licenses.
“Making marijuana medically legal will not have any impact on the Duke community,” he said.
Supporters of the bill, however, urged Duke University to integrate the possibly beneficial treatment into its medical plan, if that means allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis treatment to those who actually need it.
“I would hope that as an institution of higher learning that Duke would allow students with severe illness to use marijuana to continue their studies,” Capecchi said.
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