New Poll Affirms North Carolina Support for Medical Cannabis Legislation


North Carolina is part of a steadily decreasing number of states that have yet to enact medical or recreational cannabis policy. While the state decreased penalties for possession, meaning that people in possession of a half ounce or less can be charged with a misdemeanor but won’t be sentenced to jail time, higher possession charges can still result in jail time.

According to results from a recent poll, which interviewed 973 North Carolina voters from Feb. 3-7, the resounding opinion is that it’s time to move forward; nearly three in four voters (73%) said they support a proposed bill that would legalize medical cannabis in the state. 

The poll explored a variety of policy issues alongside medical cannabis. In the survey question, the text specifically posed:

“North Carolina is considering a law to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana (medical marijuana) for the treatment of certain diseases and conditions. Do you support a law allowing the use of marijuana in North Carolina for medical reasons?” 

The results come weeks after North Carolina Senate Rules and Operations Committee Chairman Bill Rabon (R) refiled a bill to legalize medical cannabis in the state. An earlier version of the reform bill previously cleared the Senate in 2022, but House Republicans blocked it from advancing. 

During an interview with Spectrum New 1’s Trying It Together podcast, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger called the legislation “well-constructed,” adding that it addressed many of the concerns citizens expressed while providing care to patients in need. 

“We’ll see whether or not this session is the right time,” Berge said, regarding the GOP-controlled House and what it decided to do with the legislation, but “I think it’s the right thing for us to do.”

“There may be enough new members in the legislature to get the legalization of medical marijuana across the finish line in 2023,” said Meredith Poll Director David LcLennan in a press release. “It appeared like a few, older members of the legislature had blocked medical marijuana legalization in the past.”

Last year and during this reintroduction, the bill received bipartisan support. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has also been a vocal supporter of cannabis decriminalization and legal cannabis, saying that North Carolina “should take steps to end this stigma.” Last year after the state’s medical cannabis bill passed the Senate, Cooper also said he thinks there is an opportunity for it to pass. 

Cooper has also publicly called for decriminalization, addressing that cannabis criminalization as it stands “has been applied in a discriminatory way.” While some measures have been enacted to lessen the blow for cannabis possession, possessing between a half ounce and 1.5 ounces of cannabis is a class 1 misdemeanor in the state, subject to up to 45 days imprisonment and a $200 fine. In 2019, there were 3,422 such charges and 1,909 convictions, with 70% of those convicted being nonwhite.

After President Joe Biden’s mass pardon announcement in October 2022, Cooper said that he had directed state attorneys to review their authority to pardon cannabis offenses.

It looks like the general opinion is shifting in favor of medical cannabis, though it appears that the public has been in favor of enacting such legislation when examining past poll data. In May 2022, Carolina Partnership for Reform found that an even heftier 82% of North Carolina voters are in favor of legalizing medical cannabis, comprising 75% Republicans, 87% unaffiliated voters and 86% Democrats.

That poll also found that 60% of voters also backed adult-use legalization.

Of the state’s five neighbors, only Virginia has legal medical cannabis (and recreational), while South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky all similarly have yet to legalize medical or recreational cannabis.

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