Raleigh, NC – It’s been almost 21 years since Hakeborough resident Blake Tedder nearly died.
His father was flying a single-engine plane until it crashed into the Colorado Rockies. When the plane crashed into the mountains, it caught fire and the two men had more than a third of their bodies burned.
After going into an induced coma, having a dozen skin graft surgeries, and a year of intensive physical therapy, Tedder found a treatment option that could help reduce ongoing pain: cannabis.
Although he has been able to legally obtain marijuana prescriptions in Colorado and California, he does not have the same opportunity in North Carolina.
A bill put forward by state lawmakers this month seeks to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. But it excludes many of those who suffer from chronic pain. The move was approved in the Senate with strong bipartisan support, but has since stalled in the House and is unlikely to be adopted this year, according to the House leader.
Even if the Senate Bill 711 were passed and signed into law, Tedder and other advocates for the legalization of marijuana fear that too many people in North Carolina with serious health problems would be excluded.
“It’s a shame it’s not necessarily available to people like me,” Tedder said.
The legalization of marijuana faces an obstacle, the frustration of advocates
The bill includes more than a dozen qualified medical conditions, but chronic pain and glaucoma are not among them due to the concerns of limited research lawmakers.
Tedder believes he and others could still qualify for a 30-day marijuana prescription under the provision of the measure that labels those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualified debilitating condition. But the proposal leaves many others unhappy, including residents without a doctor and those who do not claim medical status.
Chris Suttle, a Chapel Hill resident and cannabis legalization activist who has lobbied lawmakers, believes there are enough Democrats and Republicans in the House who would seize the measure. But the fate of the bill could be reduced to one man.
Shortly after the medical marijuana bill passed in the Senate, GOP Speaker Tim Moore said he opposes the legislation and has no plans to consider it as the legislative session progresses. ends this month. He also declined to say whether his chamber would hold a vote in the future.
“I want to see where ours are. I really have it,” Moore said. “This one has been thrown to the ground, and I don’t feel like getting it in the shortest session. As for the long session, I won’t say one way or the other.”
Suttle, who believes he would qualify for medical marijuana because he has PTSD, is trying to increase political pressure on lawmakers to get the proposal to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
“While I would love to see it approved in the House right now and do it and on the governor’s desk in July, I know this will not be the reality,” Suttle said. “But that doesn’t mean we have to stop.”
Possible springboard to the legalized pot
A WRAL News online poll found strong support among registered voters in North Carolina for legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes. Nearly three in four respondents said marijuana should be legalized for medical use, while 57%, including a plurality of registered Republicans, supported recreational legalization.
The April 6-10 survey reported a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points when respondents were asked about legalization for medical purposes and 2.7 percentage points when asked about legalization for recreational purposes.
In a statement, Cooper spokesman Jordan Monaghan said the governor “supports efforts to make medical marijuana available.” Cooper is currently evaluating a different bill on his desk that could legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes if done first by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
However, the Senate Bill 448 has many warnings.
The FDA must first approve the use of the prescription drug. After that, the Drug Control Administration must make the appropriate change to the federal controlled substance schedules. Then a North Carolina commission should not oppose the change.
Critics argue that the plan could create a back door for marijuana legalization, while proponents say state officials would retain their authority to oppose FDA-approved treatments containing marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC, the chemical compound in the marijuana plant that causes the drug to stop.
Meanwhile, the push for broader legalization continues.
An alternative to opioids?
If the Senate legalization bill becomes law, an 11-member committee full primarily of Cooper-appointed people could be added to the list of debilitating medical conditions, which currently include PTSD, cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Seven of the 11 commissioners would be selected by Cooper, while Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger would nominate two to be approved by the legislature. The nominees would include at least three doctors, a registered cannabis card holder and a father of a child with a qualified medical condition.
Suttle said the legalization effort has become even more important as hundreds of residents die each year from opioids. He believes that marijuana could reduce the number of deaths, although research on the association between legalized medical marijuana and opioid deaths is limited and conflicting.
Instead of adding chronic pain as a qualified medical condition, he wants the so-called opioid reduction therapy.
“As long as you have a qualified condition that requires you to get some kind of opioid medication, you should be given the right to choose cannabis,” Suttle said. “It’s much less deadly. It’s much less harmful to other vital organs compared to opioids.”
In fact, studies have shown that marijuana is much less harmful than opioids and other substances such as nicotine, alcohol and cocaine. While there is very little risk of death from marijuana use alone, more than 3,900 people in North Carolina died from opioid overdoses last year, 26% more than in 2020.
Cannabis users are about 9 percent more likely to become addicted, according to a 2011 study published by the National Library of Medicine. A 2015 review of the International Association for the Study of Pain study of patients with chronic pain who were treated with opioids found that the misuse ranged from 21% to 29% and the addiction between 8% and 12%.
In 2019, an estimated 10.1 million Americans under the age of 12 have abused opioids over the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This is much larger than the 4 million Americans in 2016 who had a marijuana disorder last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Having been someone who almost succumbed to being an opioid addict, I took one and the world it created, aside from the pain, is something that still haunts me to this day,” Suttle said. “It was a world I never want to go back to because it was too perfect.”