On Tuesday, a North Carolina legislative committee approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana. According to media reports, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 3) was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with little debate among senators.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Republican Sens. Bill Rabon and Michael Lee and Democratic Sen. Paul Lowe was filed on January 25. If passed, the legislation would allow for medicinal cannabis to be used by patients with a list of serious medical conditions, such as cancer, ALS, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, this bill does not permit chronic pain sufferers access to medical marijuana.

Recreational marijuana is not legalized under the measure, according to its sponsors. Rabon told reporters on Tuesday that the intent of the legislation is to change existing state law only so that patients and their doctors are protected from criminal and civil penalties. He said the bill does not intend to change current civil or criminal laws governing the use of non-medical marijuana.

A qualifying “debilitating medical condition” would allow patients to access medical cannabis under the bill. Patients whose doctors have recommended a specific form and dosage of medical cannabis can smoke or vape it under the bill. Medical marijuana program eligibility would be reviewed by physicians annually.

State medical marijuana identification cards would be required for patients. According to the measure, the state Department of Health and Human Services would be responsible for creating a secure, confidential electronic database containing information about qualified patients, caregivers, and physicians.

To review proposals for new qualifying medical conditions, the bill creates an 11-member advisory panel appointed by the governor and lawmakers. The legislation also establishes a Medical Cannabis Production Commission, which ensures that a sufficient supply of medical marijuana is produced for the state's registered patients by overseeing medical cannabis producers.

Medical marijuana has not yet been legalized in North Carolina. In comparison to the medicinal cannabis programs approved by many states, the proposal to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina is modest, according to Kevin Caldwell, Southeast legislative manager of the Marijuana Policy Project.

Caldwell said the legislation would create a commission that could add or delete conditions at its discretion. “I hope that the legislature listens to what the people of NC want and provides this medicine,” he said.

Medical cannabis is not a partisan issue, according to Caldwell. “We see medical cannabis programs in conservative states like Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.”

Proponents of cannabis reform are hopeful that the bill will be accepted in the North Carolina Senate, with two committees set to review it. However, Marijuana Moment reported lower expectations for its passage in the House of Representatives, which is dominated by Republicans. In a recent interview, House Speaker Tim Moore speculated that GOP receptiveness for change could be more effective this legislative session than before.

Moore said that there have been a lot of new members on the committee, and he believes that most state lawmakers now support legalizing cannabis for medical purposes. “I don’t think I would be surprised at all if that bill moved. I think the odds are more than likely that something will happen.”