Not just blowing smoke on medical marijuana

Jun. 26, 2014 @ 05:35 PM

Six years ago, former state legislator Earl Jones got an earful of static from many of his colleagues when he introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina.
Jones, a Greensboro Democrat who once represented parts of High Point in the House, said many legislators of both parties told him his proposal was too politically toxic.
Some legislators privately confided to him that they agreed with his idea to allow seriously or terminally ill patients to relieve pain through pot, Jones recalled. But they also confided that co-sponsoring his bill would open them up to campaign attacks.
“There are drugs used for medical purposes that are much more powerful and less effective than marijuana. The key is if it is recommended by a doctor,” Jones told The High Point Enterprise. “I didn’t get a lot of support on it, but I felt it would benefit people who were suffering.”
Now, the political landscape on medical marijuana at the State Legislative Building in Raleigh has shifted dramatically.
On Thursday, a bill that legalizes medicinal oil for epileptic patients made from a marijuana plant passed the state House and Senate. The bill would legalize and regulate hemp oil extract in treating severe epilepsy.
Legislation that’s similar to what Jones first introduced in 2008, which would provide more sweeping use of medical marijuana, has been debated in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Nationally, 22 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to allow for comprehensive medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Another eight states, including several in the South, recently approved programs to allow cannabis products to be used in limited medical situations — similar to the medicinal oil for epileptic patients legislation working its way through the N.C. General Assembly.
Jones said he’s not surprised by the relatively quick acceptance of medical marijuana programs after he ran into political headwinds as a legislator. Jones, a former Greensboro City Council member, last served in the House four years ago, though he doesn’t attribute his primary loss in May 2010 to his medical marijuana stance.
“I could foresee it,” Jones said about the shifting public acceptance of medical marijuana. “I had done a lot of research and could see it was coming, especially the medical aspects of it. Knowledge always defeats ignorance.”
pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528