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Medical marijuana advocates not giving up hope after legislative efforts fail in the Carolinas

Bills to legalize medical marijuana in the Carolinas had bipartisan support, but not enough to cross the finish line in either state.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Advocates are pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana in the Carolinas after lawmakers in both states left bills on the table that would’ve allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis to certain patients.

The two bills could’ve given thousands of people across the Carolinas access to prescribed cannabis. Both were named "The compassionate care act" and aimed to help those with medical conditions like epilepsy and PTSD. 

South Carolina’s Senate Bill 150 and North Carolina’s Senate Bill 711 passed in their respective state Senates but failed in House chambers near the end of each legislative session.

“It was a punch in the gut,” Marine veteran Gary Hess shared with WCNC Charlotte about the killed bills. 

Hess fought in Iraq and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He now advocates for medical cannabis as a treatment for PTSD, saying it helps with relaxing, eating, and sleeping. 

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He added that studies show cannabis can reverse the stress response in someone's brain.

Hess attributed the failing bills in part to pushback from law enforcement and conservative voices in politics that "still treat cannabis as a gateway drug.” 

In South Carolina, law enforcement agencies have spoken out against legalizing medical cannabis, which is a deal breaker for Lancaster County Representative Brandon Newton.

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Newton told WCNC Charlotte's Julia Kauffman by phone that he would need to see those agencies and the bill authors come to an agreement before voting yes. 

“You’re asking law enforcement to enforce a law that allows marijuana in certain circumstances but not others, that can be very difficult on them,” Newton said. 

Another concern for Newton is legalizing a medicinal product without FDA approval. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. But here in the Carolinas, neither bill could grind up enough support in the state legislatures. 

Regardless, Hess is holding onto hope for next year. 

“Change will eventually come to North Carolina and South Carolina," Hess said confidently. 

In North Carolina, a new law was enacted in June, allowing marijuana medications to be prescribed if they’re approved by the FDA. Right now, there is only one FDA-approved cannabis product, according to the agency, and it’s used to treat seizures.  

Contact Julia Kauffman at jkauffman@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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