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NC Senate wants to tie medical marijuana legalization to new hemp regulations

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, left, and Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, amended a bill Wednesday that would add medical marijuana legalization to a House measure addressing CBD and hemp regulations.
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Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, left, and Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, amended a bill Wednesday that would add medical marijuana legalization to a House measure addressing CBD and hemp regulations.

State senators are trying to legalize medical marijuana by tying the legislation to a bill that would regulate hemp and CBD products.

The Senate has already passed a bill to allow medical marijuana, but House Speaker Tim Moore has refused to put the legislation up for a vote. He said he supports the measure but too many of his fellow Republicans in the House are opposed.

The House does want to pass new regulations for products already on the market in North Carolina that contain THC. They want an age requirement to buy CBD and hemp products and licensing rules to govern retailers and manufacturers.

On Wednesday, a Senate committee voted to add medical marijuana to the hemp regulations bill. Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick and the powerful Senate Rules Committee chairman, said the products are closely related.

“It's just a matter of one coming from the ‘hemp plant’ and the other coming from the bad 'M' word, the marijuana plant, both of which have the same genus and the same species being cannabis sativa,” Rabon said. “It doesn't take really smart people to see that they are the same thing.”

Rabon said the combined bill would make it harder to get marijuana than the other hemp and CBD products.

“Hemp products can be used by anyone 21 years of age upon the passage of this bill,” he said. “Medical marijuana can only be used by people at the recommendation of a physician. It will be a safer product than anything else that you see. It will be specifically used for named and enumerated diseases, most of them terminal.”

Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, said the bill is urgently needed ahead of possible federal changes to how hemp and marijuana products are classified.

“We have an opportunity now to really put some guardrails around this industry, and I think we don't need to miss this opportunity,” he said.

If the bill passes the Senate, the House will vote on whether to concur with the changes. It could vote down the new version of the bill, which would set up private negotiations between the two chambers.

The same Senate committee also passed new legislation addressing vaping products later in the meeting, although that’s in a separate bill.

That proposal would put some vaping and “alternative nicotine” products through a certification process to help determine if they’re FDA-approved and safe to use. Certified products would be put on a list for retailers, and stores wouldn’t be able to sell products that aren’t on the list.

“There's some pretty hefty penalties for manufacturers that bypass these laws, which I think we need to have to protect our kids and protect others,” said Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.

The proposal faced opposition from lobbyists from the convenience store industry, who said the change could pull products from store shelves and harm their business.

The vaping provision was tacked onto an unrelated bill that would allow Wake County schools to find a new partner institution for its leadership academies, which were previously tied to St. Augustine’s University.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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