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Some say NC medical marijuana proposal 'leaving money on table'

Legislation to legalize marijuana for medical use in North Carolina advanced through another Senate panel on Wednesday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Legislation to legalize marijuana for medical use in North Carolina advanced through another Senate panel on Wednesday.

Members of the Senate Finance committee, which voted for the legislation, narrowed their review to fees and revenues collected in the measure, including $50 identification cards all cannabis patients or their caregivers must obtain.

The state's 10 medical marijuana suppliers also would have to obtain $50,000 licenses and send a portion of monthly revenues to state coffers.

An amendment approved by the committee made clear that the program would be self-supporting and not need other state revenues to operate.

Some people said, however, that the state wasn't charging the providers enough for the licenses. Others insisted ailing customers who can't afford the cost will end up paying for the expense.

"I think y'all are leaving a lot of money on the table," said Pat Oglesby, founder of Chapel Hill-based Center for New Revenue. "If you had an auction, I hesitate to think how many people – how much money people would pay for these licenses."

A medical marijuana license recently went for $8 million in Maryland, Oglesby said, adding that North Carolina might be better off setting itself up as the sole source for medical marijuana in the state.

But Scott Lewis, a brain cancer patient, said he would like the state to allow him and others to grow marijuana for their own use. He said he can't afford to pick up the costs of the licenses and taxes that suppliers will pass along to customers.

"No one's going to absorb sales tax. It's not back-to-school shopping," Lewis said. "I'm going to go to the black market because, if I get caught, it's legal. I can't afford to buy it from the government [system]."

A black market is precisely why Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, told lawmakers they should defeat the legislation. Billions of dollars in illegal marijuana sales occur in many of the 36 states where medical cannabis is legal, Creech said, noting that 70 percent of all sales in Oregon are illegal.

The bill, which cleared the Senate Judiciary committee last month, would allow patients who have one of several “debilitating medical conditions” like cancer, epilepsy or HIV to purchase and use marijuana products. The producers, licensed by a new state commission, could open four stores each.

The measure still must go through two more committees before reaching the Senate floor.