By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH – A bill filed earlier this month would open the door for hundreds or even thousands of North Carolinians to begin growing and using marijuana to treat everything from HIV and AIDS to severe migraines, muscle spasms or any other “serious medical or mental condition” as long as it is recommended by a doctor. Further, the Medical Marijuana Act would invite residents of the state to become producers and dispensers of the illegal drug by meeting minimal criteria and paying a licensing fee.
“The legalization of medical marijuana would be but a step toward the legalization of recreational marijuana,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “Studies clearly demonstrate that there are other drugs available today that are as good or better than marijuana at addressing pain, nausea and other symptoms, and they are also safer.”
According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, “scientists at the National Institutes of Health indicate that after carefully examining the existing preclinical and human data, there is no evidence to suggest that smoked marijuana might be superior to currently available therapies for glaucoma, weight loss associated with AIDS, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy, muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, or intractable pain.” Further, the American Medical Association recommends that marijuana remain a Schedule I drug, the classification reserved for those with a high tendency for abuse and no accepted medical use.  And a National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine study touted in House Bill 1380 actually led its principal investigators to declare “Marijuana’s future as medicine does not involve smoking. It involves exploiting the potential in cannabinoids such as THC, the key psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.”
Nonetheless, the Medical Marijuana Act, sponsored by Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford), Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), Nick Mackey (D-Mecklenburg) would allow anyone with these illnesses and more than a dozen other “debilitating conditions” to grow a marijuana patch with a canopy of up to 100 square feet and keep an additional 24 ounces of ready to smoke marijuana on hand. Or the “qualified patient” could opt to name one or two caregivers to grow and handle their marijuana for them as long as the caregivers are North Carolina residents and at least 21 years old.
Even children and teens could legally smoke pot after hearing about the risks from their recommending doctor and getting approval from a parent or guardian who agreed to serve as caregiver and control how much marijuana they used.
According to the bill, people who want to use marijuana without facing arrest from state and local authorities would submit a note from their doctor with his or her contact information, their own name, address and date of birth, and the names, addresses and dates of birth of up to two caregivers, along with an application fee of about $10. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services would have 15 days to verify information and issue a registry ID card, or if data is found to be false, deny the application.
The cards, valid for two years, would include a registry ID number and photo. Unlike many other permits granted by the state, this registry would not be public record, and anyone violating confidentiality rules could be jailed for 180 days and fined $1,000. Further, schools, employers or landlords would not be allowed to refuse to enroll, employ or lease to a person based on the fact that he is a card-carrying marijuana user or caregiver. Nor could a pot-smoking parent be denied visitation or custody of children based on his use of the drug.
“This is one of the myriad of problems with this bill, beyond the fact that it would legalize, for many residents, the use of a dangerous and addictive drug,” said the Rev. Creech. “With the confidential registry and special protections, a divorced person would have no way of knowing if his or her children were being exposed to marijuana smoke during visits with their other parent. And if he found out they were, there still would be nothing he could do. A landlord couldn’t prevent a renter from growing marijuana on his property as long as he contended that it was for medical purposes.”
Similarly the bill would put employers covered by the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 in a bind by insisting that they could not legally refuse to hire a person whom they know is a marijuana user. It would also create conflict between local law enforcement, who by state law could not arrest so called “medicinal” marijuana growers, and federal agents, who are bound by federal law to investigate.
Though the stated goal of the bill is to protect medicinal marijuana users, their caregivers and physicians from arrest and prosecution, the fact is they would still be violating federal law and doctors who recommend marijuana could be setting themselves up for future malpractice suits, which would likely not be covered by their insurance since many companies are excluding claims arising from the use of non-FDA approved medications. 
To provide the psychoactive drug, the bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to set up a system of producers and dispensaries – North Carolina residents who haven’t been convicted of a violent felony or felony theft offense in the past five years and who provide basic information about themselves, their board members or officers and employees. Applicants would pay an annual licensing fee: $2,000 for dispensaries and $1,000 for producers and could then legally possess enough marijuana for 25 patients (roughly 2,500 square feet of canopy and about 37.5 pounds of usable weed.) Dispensaries would sell marijuana, marijuana plants, seeds, cultivation equipment, etc. to patients or caregivers. Similarly, producers would sell the drug, plants and seeds to dispensaries. Both businesses would be required to file quarterly reports of all transactions and pay the Department of Health and Human Services 10 percent of their gross revenue from the marijuana and products containing marijuana.
Bill supporters, including co-sponsors Kelly Alexander Jr. (D-Mecklenburg) and Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), say allowing medical marijuana would result in an estimated $60 million in revenues annually within four years. The bill does not include estimates of costs of enforcing its provisions or for addressing societal problems that would result.
One of the most interesting sections of the bill addresses “affirmative defenses” and basically would make registration cards unnecessary as even those who fail to apply for a card would be able to defend their use of marijuana for medical purposes as long as they took steps to “comply substantially” with the act’s provisions. This section of the bill also would seem to virtually do away with the limits of how much marijuana a person could legally possess as long as he or she could show that a doctor agreed that the extra marijuana was “medically necessary” or that he or she was assisting someone whose doctor agreed that the extra supply of the drug was needed.
The bill, referred to the Committee on Health, would call for “objective scientific research by the University of North Carolina regarding the efficacy and safety of administering cannabis as part of medical treatment.”
It would also provide for temporary permits for using marijuana to be issued as early as Dec. 1, 2009, as soon as the act became effective, even before the Department of Health and Human Services would have set up an application process or before dispensaries or producers were established.
If the Health Committee approves the bill, it will go on to Judiciary II and then Finance.
Rep. Jones has also filed H 1383, Medical Marijuana Act/Referendum, which would put the issue on the Nov. 3 ballot allowing voters to chose Yes or No to: North Carolina should enact an act to permit the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes only (Medical Marijuana Act). According to the Fayetteville Observer, he also plans to file a bill that would create a task force to study medicinal marijuana programs, similar to his bill last year which died in committee.
Sandra Bennett, former president of Drug Watch International, has pointed out the absurdity of a marijuana referendum.
“We cannot vote on the toxicity or molecular structure of a substance or change that toxicity or molecular structure by holding demonstrations or protests,” she said. “To grant special status to marijuana is unwarranted and ridiculous.” 
 Eric A. Voth, MD and Richard H. Schwartz, MD. “Medicinal Applications of Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Marijuana.” May 15, 1997. Vol. 126, Issue 10. Pages 791-798.
 Report 6 of the American Medical Association Council of Scientific Affairs (A-01), June 2001.
 News conference announcing “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base.” Released March 17, 1999 by The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
 The Potential Medical Liability for Physicians Recommending Marijuana as a Medicine. Educating Voices Inc. July 2003.
 The CQ Researcher, August 20, 1999, Volume 9, Number 31.