Patrick Gannon: N.C. ready for medical marijuana?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 31, 2015

RALEIGH – As far as I could tell, most of the speakers weren’t hippies or druggies or ne’er-do-wells.

They were everyday people from across the state who traveled to Raleigh last week to beg legislators to legalize medical marijuana to treat various physical and mental disorders.

They were veterans, wives of disabled veterans, cancer patients, senior citizens with chronic pain and parents of children with debilitating conditions. Their emotional comments moistened many eyes in the committee room.

There was Kristine Bacon, who testified that her husband, a U.S. Army veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. She said she watched as her husband — depressed, in pain and unable to leave the house — was “slowly disintegrating” in front of her.

“Then he would use this magical medicine, and he was compliant, and he was nice and he wasn’t angry, and he was helpful and happy and he left the house,” she said.

Bacon and other speakers hoped to appeal to the Republicans who controlled a House committee as it considered a bill to legalize and regulate the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

“I am a Republican. I am not an Occupy Wall Streeter. I am not a liberal. I am a Fox News writer and I am a Christian, and I vote,” Bacon said.

Then there was Pamela McDaniel, the mother of a grown son, Madison, who suffered head injuries in a 2009 car crash, has an average of 60 seizures a month and has to be accompanied at all times. McDaniel said her son has tried dozens of medicines, dietary restrictions, acupuncture and other treatments to try to control the seizures.

“We are asking you to approve this Medical Cannabis Act because Madison has no other good options left,” she said. “He just wants a chance at a decent life, to be able to go to the bathroom and take a shower by himself, to be capable of holding down a job.”

And there was Helen Monroe, an 84-year-old Republican from Chatham County, who said she was opposed to marijuana until the past couple of years, as her arthritis and a degenerating disk in her back started to get the best of her. Now, she said, she uses cannabis oil topically and orally. She said it should be legally available to those who would be helped by “this wonderful, God-given natural plant.”

“I don’t even ride the grocery cart in the grocery store anymore because I can walk,” she said. “It really is a wonderful thing.”

But North Carolina’s most socially conservative advocates also attended the meeting to oppose the legislation. Tami Fitzgerald of the NC Values Coalition said legalizing medical marijuana could open the door to legalizing the drug for recreational use.

The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of N.C., said issues of medicine shouldn’t be determined by the “whims of the electorate” and should first go through rigorous scientific testing, which hasn’t so far been favorable toward cannabis as a medicine. He pointed out that marijuana can cause impairment of short-term memory, loss of judgment, anxiety and slowed reaction time and that its effects can be particularly harmful for young people.

“The concept of medical marijuana essentially violates every sensibility of the way people in our country believe medication ought to be approved and dispensed,” Creech said. “Testimonials are not science. Emotions or even compassion don’t trump wisdom.”

Some saw the fact that medical marijuana advocates got the opportunity to plead their cases to state lawmakers in a committee as a positive sign for their cause.

But quickly and without comment, members of the House Judiciary I committee voted to kill the bill for this legislative session.

North Carolina — or at least its General Assembly — isn’t ready for marijuana.

Patrick Gannon writes for Capitol Press Association.