To the traditional topics of a legislative town hall meeting — economic development, fake news and even the morality of abortion — was added a new topic last week that could signal an upcoming legislative push on the equally controversial topic of medical cannabis products in North Carolina.
Cherokee took another step along the road toward legalizing medicinal marijuana with a vote last week to start drafting legislation that would let the drug be produced and prescribed on the Qualla Boundary.
Margaret Wakefield is not a college student nor does she sport dreadlocks and Birkenstocks while chatting about how the world should focus more on peace and love.
Wakefield has short dark hair, pink fingernails and silver heart-shaped earrings. Wearing a printed shirt and sweater, the Cherokee resident is dressed as if she was going to a nice restaurant with a friend or just coming from church.
Despite her clean-cut appearance, Wakefield is a vocal leader for, what some may find, a surprising cause — medical marijuana.
Wakefield’s mother died from cancer a year ago, and the life-changing event has made her very open and passionate about allowing people suffering from chronic illnesses to use cannabis as a form of treatment.
“If I had known then what I know now … (my mother) would have had some to smoke everyday,” said Wakefield, a member of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network, a nonprofit with the end goal of passing a medical marijuana bill. Medical cannabis is legal in 16 states and in Washington, D.C. Another 17 states have seen bills introduced.
The N.C. Cannabis Patients Network has about 700 members, most of whom range from age 30 to 60 and beyond, Wakefield said. Members are also allowed to remain anonymous.
“We are just wanting to be able to grow our own medicine,” she said. “We are trying to get our rights back.”
There is currently a bill in a N.C. House of Representatives committee, which NCCPN hopes will be voted on either during the upcoming short legislative session in April or when the newly elected General Assembly leaders meet next year.
House Bill 577, a.k.a. the Medical Cannabis Act, would allow people with debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis (to name a few), to receive prescriptions for medical marijuana from their doctors. Studies have shown that cannabis can increase one’s appetite and offer pain relief.
The state would also profit from the legalization of medical marijuana. Within four years, the state would realize about $250 million in revenue from the production and sale of cannabis each year, according to the bill.
However, Wakefield understands that the organization is in for a tough fight in this Bible Belt state, especially since some are hesitant to sign their name in support of such a controversial bill. When asked what the biggest obstacle to the bill’s passage was, Wakefield immediately spouted the Republicans.
“They tend to be a lot more conservative than Democrats,” she said.
But even when the General Assembly was under a Democratic majority in previous years, similar efforts went nowhere.
While marijuana carries a stigma for its use as a recreational drug, allowing medical marijuana is not tantamount to opening the floodgates of illegal use, supporters claim. Many synthetic pharmaceutical drugs are abused in street settings but are still legal for their perceived medical benefits.
One Democratic state representative from Buncombe County has already put her support behind the Medical Cannabis Act.
Patsy Keever, who is serving her second term of office in the N.C. House of Representatives, said her husband suffered for three years before he died of cancer, and his pain medication was in pill form.
“He couldn’t swallow,” she said.
If medical marijuana was available, her husband could have inhaled it in a vapor form, Keever said.
“Medical marijuana has been proven to treat the pain,” Keever said. “Anything that will just help somebody in pain and not harm them or anybody else seems like a no brainer to me.”
The bill being considered in North Carolina is much stricter than the one in California, Wakefield said.
In California, it is widely claimed that anyone can get a medical marijuana prescription by simply walking into a doctor’s office and saying you have a problem. In North Carolina, patients looking for a prescription would have to have a relationship with their physician, which includes a full medical assessment and the doctor’s willingness to provide follow-up care to determine the efficacy of the drug.
People who wish to grow or sell marijuana or marijuana-infused products, such as cookies or butter, will be required to pay a $5,000 licensing fee each year. That amount could increase to $10,000, pending possible amendments to the bill, Wakefield said.
The North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network will hold a meeting at 2 p.m. on March 10 at Tribal Grounds Coffee Shop in Cherokee. Discussions will revolve around allowing the use of medical marijuana in North Carolina and educating people about the benefits of prescription cannabis. The meeting is open to the public.