Raleigh, N.C. — If a bill clearing the way for medical marijuana in North Carolina makes it past the House Judiciary I Committee on Wednesday, it will beat a set of odds that are less steep than they were two years ago but still imposing.
House Bill 78 would allow people to obtain prescriptions in order to use marijuana. Users would need a state registration card, and they could buy cannabis only from a state-licensed distributor.
"As long as we're getting the bills heard in committee ... that's an indication that members are willing to listen," said Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, one of the measure's primary sponsors.
Carney said she didn't have any expectation as to whether the measure would pass. However, she said the conversation is different from two years ago, when a similar bill met its demise after a raucous committee meeting. More people making the case for legal marijuana, she said, are those seeking relief from various medical problems.
That lobbying effort has been persistent over the past few weeks, lawmakers report.
"We're getting so many calls, for and against, that it's taking our attention away from other priorities," committee Chairman Leo Daughterly, R-Johnston, said Tuesday.
Wednesday's Judiciary Committee meeting, he said, would give everyone a clear indication of whether the bill was going to survive this legislative session or would be done for another two years.
Daughtry said he plans to give the public up to an hour to address the bill and then the committee 30 minutes to discuss it before voting.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Daughtry said.
Typically, a committee will either vote for or against giving a bill a favorable report. In this case, that would mean the medical marijuana measure would either go on to the House's budget committee for more work or, if it fails, stay put in Judiciary. Two years ago, a similar bill ran into such staunch opposition that lawmakers voted to give the bill a rare "unfavorable report," which killed both it and any similar measures for the entire session.
While Daughtry and other lawmakers say they have been inundated with calls, the tone of those calls has been much different from two years ago.
"Unlike the last time, the people who are calling have been very, very, very respectful," Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, said. "I am so impressed with their demeanor."
Steinberg said he would listen to all who speak on Wednesday but likely vote "no" barring any new information being brought up.
He said he doubted the measure would pass out of committee, but like Carney, he said that, given the tenor of the national debate, it may not be long before North Carolina's General Assembly begins to shift.
"I think a lot of this is generational," he said.
He is 67 years old, and many lawmakers are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Their attitudes, he said, were entrenched during the heyday of the drug counterculture of the 1960s, and voting to legalize drugs is a difficult position for them to take.
As younger lawmakers come along, Steinburg speculated, they may be more open to changing the state's stance on medical marijuana.