North Carolina Senate passes medical marijuana legalization bill

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North Carolina’s state Senate on Thursday gave its initial approval to a restrictive, limited-license medical marijuana bill by an overwhelming vote of 35-10, moving that state a step closer to becoming the 40th in the country to legalize MMJ.

The strong support came despite concerns by activists and one of the senators that the state’s homegrown hemp growers, processors and retailers could be shut out and threatened financially by the medical cannabis industry.

The measure, Senate Bill 711 or the North Carolina Compassionate Act, passed on a second reading.

The bill needs one more vote on a different day before moving to the state House of Representatives.

If the bill passes the House, it would go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature.

Under Senate Bill 711, a Medical Cannabis Production Commission would issue 10 medical marijuana “supplier” licenses that would be vertically integrated.

Each license holder could open up to four dispensaries, with at least one in a county designated as economically disadvantaged.

Democratic Sen. Julie Mayfield expressed concerns with the vertical structure, saying that only large multistate corporations would have the financial resources to participate.

She said the state’s 1,500 hemp growers “have literally plowed the ground to make it fertile for the legalization of marijuana, but none of these entities can get the licenses created in this bill because none of them are vertically integrated, and they aren’t vertically integrated because they are small businesses and small farmers.”

Mayfield filed an amendment that would require the commission to issue separate grower, processing and retail licenses, but lawmakers tabled that amendment.

Her amendment would have called for issuing up to 500 licenses for growers, 80 for processors and 100 for retailers.

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Under Senate Bill 711, the 10 suppliers or vertically integrated operators would pay a monthly fee of 10% of their gross revenue, which would help fund cannabis research.

The measure would allow patients with one of more than a dozen “debilitating medical conditions,” including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder, to purchase up to a 30-day supply of medical marijuana as determined by their physician.

Jeff Smith can be reached at