Opinions about medical marijuana are shifting rapidly across most of the United States, as evidenced by polls showing growing support for MMJ and the introduction of cannabis-friendly bills in many states so far this year.
But resistance remains strong in one area of the country: the South, which ranks as the last major holdout when it comes to medical marijuana. While voters in Southern states are starting to come around to the idea of medical marijuana, lawmakers are not. Not one state in this conservative region of the country has legalized medical cannabis, in part because of heavy resistance from those in power.
Recent developments in North Carolina highlight just how difficult it is to get a Southern state to go green.
This week, the North Carolina House Rules Committee essentially squashed a medical marijuana legalization bill because, as one lawmaker put it, members were being “harassed” by supporters.
“We (killed) it to be done with it, so people could move on for the session,” Republican Rep. Paul Stam told WRAL.com. Lawmakers said they wanted to stop the flood of calls and emails from MMJ advocates lobbying in support of the bill.
It’s a shocking admission: Lawmakers, after all, are supposed to listen to the people they represent. Instead, it seems they simply felt bothered by the groundswell of support for a bill they might not agree with personally. The GOP-led committee used a rare procedural move to kill the bill, giving the measure an “unfavorable report” and therefore ensuring no further debate about the issue this year. Lawmakers voted to sink the measure after just 20 minutes of public comments in which all but one person who spoke favored the bill.
This is indicative of the general climate for MMJ in other Southern states. Earlier this month, legislators in Alabama shot down a medical cannabis proposal, while the Arkansas attorney general recently rejected the wording of an MMJ ballot measure (supporters will now go back and try to clarify the language).
Medical marijuana bills are under consideration in several other Southern states, including West Virginia, where support among the public is strong.
But the best opportunity to push through medical marijuana measures in the South might be to get the issue in front of voters in 2014 or 2016. A ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas failed in last year’s elections by an extremely thin margin, indicating growing support among the general population. Cannabis supporters in that state are now pushing for legalization during the state’s 2014 general election.