The two legislators who represent Surry County in Raleigh say they remain just as opposed to legalizing marijuana as ever, but both favor a limited use of the drug for medical purposes.
After action by the Senate on Thursday, each has now voted for a measure known as the “Hope 4 Haley and Friends” act, which will allow hemp oil extracted for marijuana plants to treat people with epilepsy.
And from local Sen. Shirley Randleman’s point of view, the issue hits home.
“Having a son with epilepsy causes me to understand the importance of this legislation to children whose seizures cannot be controlled by traditional medications,” explained Randleman, a Wilkes County Republican who also represents Surry and Stokes counties in the N.C. Senate.
Randleman joined other Senate members Thursday in passing the bill in a 45-0 vote, after it had received a favorable report from the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday. The measure is now expected to become law, with its provisions to be phased in within the next few months.
But Randleman says the act should not be confused with what other states are doing.
“This legislation is not related to medical marijuana (in a broad sense) and should not be viewed as such,” Randleman stressed, adding that “this legislation has nothing to do with legalizing marijuana.”
The consideration of the measure in the Senate came on the heels of a vote on the Hope 4 Haley and Friends bill last week in the N.C. House of Representatives, where it was approved 111-2.
That included an “Aye” vote from local Rep. Sarah Stevens, who said she wasn’t convinced of the act’s worthiness initially.
“It’s an interesting bill — I did not see myself voting for it at first,” Stevens said Wednesday. “But the more I learned about it, I did.”
Stevens, a Republican from Mount Airy who is an attorney, reiterated her consistent opposition to marijuana being prescribed for “broad” medical purposes, which other states allow. But the hemp oil extract doesn’t fit that mold, she says.
“It’s a little bit of a different animal.”
As Sen. Randleman pointed out, the bill will not provide a way for anyone to get high. It permits the use of CBD (cannabidioloil), which is an extract from the hemp plant having less than 0.3 percent THC — the primary component responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects.
Stevens agreed that such a concentration will not lend itself to use of the extract for recreational purposes. “So no matter how much of this you took, you couldn’t get high.”
The Mount Airy legislator believes this distinguishes the Hope 4 Haley legislation from medical marijuana in general, which critics say is being abused in some states under a scenario of “I don’t feel good — give me marijuana,” she said.
Stevens referred to her earlier opposition to medical marijuana in North Carolina which she said would have allowed people to obtain 300 cigarettes, or joints, at a time. “That is just something I couldn’t go for.”
“Before it has been overly broad,” she said of previous medical-marijuana proposals, but the measure winning approval in Raleigh is “very limited.”
Under the measure now passed by both chambers of the Legislature, the hemp extract will be used for people with epilepsy suffering from intractable seizure disorders when no other medicines have worked.
The extract has shown promise in treating children with intractable epilepsy, which refers to a condition in which a patient’s seizures fail to come under control with conventional treatment.
A person will be able to use the marijuana oil extract as an alternative form of treatment only if certain conditions are met. These include having a seizure disorder that does not respond to three or more treatment options overseen by a neurologist, Randleman said.
The bill sets up a registry of neurologists who will be authorized to dispense the extract medication in pill form to patients without fear of prosecution. Caregivers and patients also will be listed in what is termed the pilot study database registry.
Possession of cannabis extracts will be allowed for those with seizure disorders who receive a recommendation from a neurologist, and subsequently obtain a registration card from the N.C. Department of Health.
Another provision in the bill encourages several medical research schools in the state — Wake Forest University, East Carolina University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — to research the effectiveness of cannabis oil on seizure disorders.
But Rep. Stevens said what has happened in North Carolina should not be viewed as a precursor for legalizing marijuana.
“People say it is no different from alcohol, but look at all the problems we’ve had from alcohol.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.