NC Senate medical marijuana bill gains ally in Forsyth County Rep Donny Lambeth
The bipartisan and controversial N.C. Senate medical marijuana bill gained a pivotal House ally on Tuesday.
N.C. Rep. Donny Lambeth gave his endorsement to Senate Bill 3, titled “NC Compassionate Care Act,” during a discussion-only hearing in the House Health committee.
SB3 passed the Senate by a 36-10 vote on March 1 — the second consecutive year the chamber approved the legislation.
SB3 would permit the use of medical marijuana for individuals with ALS, cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments, but not for those experiencing chronic pain.
The bill does not allow recreational marijuana usage.
Legislative analysts say it is likely House members will amend SB3 to add language that reflects a more conservative approach.
Although Lambeth has championed many healthcare bills, foremost the historic Medicaid expansion bill pending funding in the 2023-24 state budget, he had not expressed an opinion on medical marijuana until Tuesday.
During the 2021 debate on a similar Senate bill, Lambeth cast doubt that such a bill could find enough House votes.
Lambeth said Tuesday what changed his mind was a fact-finding visit with 15 other legislators to a marijuana operational center in Mississippi. That state has similar restrictions to the ones SB3 proposes for North Carolina.
Lambeth said he was reassured by how Mississippi handled the growing of the marijuana used for medical purposes.
“It was set up in a very controlled environment in a large warehouse — a series of greenhouses — with strong regulation, strong security. We were given a very comprehensive review.
“We sat down with the speaker of the Mississippi House, and it made an impact on me since I was still on the fence.”
Lambeth also cited recent conversations “with ministers, family people, friends, saying ‘please help us because we’ve been in such pain and we think this will actually relieve us’” of that pain.
Meanwhile, Lambeth said most of the voices he hears against SB3 is those expressing concern about medical marijuana being a pathway to legalization of recreational marijuana, or that it only masks pain.
“We need to be able to answer that question,” Lambeth said.
“But, if you go see how well this is actually regulated and controlled and the environment it is grown in, it gives you a different perspective. There was no question about the accountability in this particular plant we were in.
“We all need to learn more about it as we decide what we’re going to do with this bill,” Lambeth said.
Lambeth also said he has been influenced by the experiences of primary bill sponsor Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, as he sought relief from intense chemotherapy pain.
Rabon was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2000 at age 48. Rabon has said his oncologist initially told him he had as much as 18 months to live.
Until Tuesday, Rabon, now age 71, had been reluctant to share many details of his medical treatments, considering it a private matter.
Urged to share his story by a House Health committee member, Rabon acknowledged limited use of marijuana — “a few puffs” — enabled him to withstand the worst of his chemotherapy treatments as he continued to work at his veterinarian practice.
“I’ve told it many, many times privately, and I have no shame in saying, you know, ‘this is what you will do in order to stay alive,’ ” Rabon said after the committee meeting, according to The Associated Press.
Rabon told the oncologist he had not been encouraged by his first three months of treatment. The oncologist warned that a more aggressive form of treatment would make him “real sick,” and told him he needed “to get some good marijuana.”
Rabon said his dilemma of considering using marijuana led him to tell his local police chief and sheriff that “I’m going to have to buy drugs illegally to stay alive.”
Instead, Rabon said marijuana would show up in his mailbox as he needed it.
Finding a way to tolerate the worse of the chemotherapy is “the only reason I’m alive today,” Rabon said.
“It can help a number of people at the end of their life at a time that they need compassion … what time they have left should be as comfortable and as easy as they can be,” Rabon said.
Potential opposition from House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and House majority leader John Bell IV, R-Johnston, could derail SB3 in the House, said John Dinan, a Wake Forest University political science professor and national expert on state legislatures.
However, the News & Observer of Raleigh quoted Moore as saying in February that SB3 has “decent prospects of passage” given new House members elected in 2022.
“Last year when we didn’t take it up, it was overwhelmingly opposed by most of the caucus,” Moore told the Raleigh newspaper.
“Attitudes have changed, and I think some folks have had an opportunity, once they were back home and met with folks, to see that there’s some potentially legitimate uses for this.”