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The push for medical weed in N.C. 

Igniting support for medical marijuana: On March 4, when state representative Nick Mackey hosted a town hall meeting to explain House Bill 1380, which would make medicinal marijuana legal, he already knew the majority of voters were behind it.

"The feedback that I've gotten, people are overwhelmingly in support of this bill," Mackey said. "Out of 50 e-mails that I've gotten, there were two that said withdraw this bill."

And Mackey cites a WCNC poll taken in early March that showed 87 percent of people were in support of making medicinal marijuana legal.

House Bill 1380 would allow people who suffer from illnesses that include glaucoma, arthritis and severe migraines to register with the state and get a prescription for marijuana. Mackey said it would be no different from using other prescription drugs like Oxycontin, which is highly addictive if abused. And legalizing marijuana for medicinal purpose may help bring more money into North Carolina.

"If 1380 passes, it is estimated that it would generate $60 million in taxes," Mackey said. "We have a budget crisis right now, and we had to make a lot of cuts in a lot of services that people get. This year we got stimulus money in to help fill the gaps. But there's not going to be stimulus money down the road and there will be more cuts. If we don't raise some more revenue, the cuts will be very severe."

Though the bill will bring in money, Mackey said the true focus of the bill is about compassion and getting sick people the help they need to make it day to day.

"People are suffering. Just imagine being on chemotherapy and the chemo and the other medicines that you're having to take are making you nauseated all the time and you can't eat. So, now you're starving away. That's a known side effect of cancer treatment. But now you smoke the marijuana, and now you can eat," Mackey said.

Jean Marlowe, executive director of The North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network -- a group that provides education on medical marijuana, said once people understand the benefits of the drug to people who need it, they voice support for the bill.

Marlowe was one of the panelists at the town hall meeting.

"People ... were objecting in the beginning because they thought [House Bill 1380] would make it legal for everybody or easy for people to get. But once they read the bill, they realize that it is more of a way to provide safe and legal access to patients," she said.

Marlowe said it is hard and dangerous for someone in a wheelchair or dependent on a walker to get the pain relief they need from marijuana because the drug is illegal.

"[With the passage of this bill]," she said, "they will be able to go into a perfectly sanctioned, legal business and pick up their medication and go home with it safely."

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