Backdoor to legalized weed? Bill potentially legalizing marijuana if feds do heads to Cooper

North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday sent a bill to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper that could legalize marijuana if the federal government does first.

Posted Updated

Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina bill that could legalize marijuana if the federal government does so first is heading to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Senate Bill 448, which passed both chambers of the legislature with strong bipartisan support, received final legislative approval in the House on Wednesday. If enacted, the measure would automatically make legal in the state prescription drugs containing marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC, the chemical compound in the marijuana plant that produces the drug's high. But such legalization would come with a number of caveats.

First, the Food and Drug Administration must approve the prescription's use. The Drug Enforcement Administration must then make the proper change to the federal controlled substance schedules. Finally, a state commission would have to not object to the change.

The bill's proponents say THC has medicinal benefits, including treatment for seizures. They also note the measure would simply align state and federal standards.

Critics argue the measure could set a harmful precedent.

State Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican, was one of only nine lawmakers to object to the measure. He called the proposal a possible "stepping stone to the legalization of marijuana."

He proposed an amendment to say "marijuana shall not be legalized" in North Carolina regardless of federal action, but Pittman's suggested change wasn't considered because GOP House Speaker Tim Moore ruled it out of order.

"It looks to me like it leaves it mighty wide open," Pittman said of the bill's language on medical marijuana. "If we're going to just say, 'Whatever the FDA does or whatever the federal government does, we're going to just go along with it,' I'm sorry. I have problems with that.

"I'm a states' rights person, and I think the states are primary, not the federal government. We don't just do whatever they do."

Republican state Rep. Pat McElraft of Carteret County said the state Commission for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse can still object to FDA-approved drugs.

"We all have a right to object to it if we don't want it to come here," McElraft said. "I have to remind you these are FDA-cleared drugs. This is not marijuana legalization."

The bill passed the House 92-9 on Wednesday after a unanimous 49-0 vote in the state Senate last month. Cooper is expected to sign the measure. Only one Democratic lawmaker opposed the legislation.

The measure comes as a separate marijuana legalization bill has stalled in the House after advancing in the Senate last week.
A WRAL News online survey found Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated North Carolina voters overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization for medical use. Recreational use also has strong support, including from a plurality of Republicans. Nearly three in four respondents said marijuana should be legalized for medical use, while 57% supported recreational legalization.

The poll conducted from April 6 to 10 reported a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points when respondents were asked about legalization for medical purposes and 2.7 percentage points when asked about legalization for recreational purposes.


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