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America’s most conservative states are embracing medical marijuana May 9, 2021
America’s most conservative states are embracing medical marijuana

Cannabis is already available to more than 230 million Americans for medical use and, according to an April survey by Pew Research, 91 percent of residents believe marijuana should be legal for that purpose. Even in states without a medical program like North Carolina and South Carolina, recent polls have shown support topping 70 percent.

Many elected officials, however, have hesitated to follow suit. And even in a year when cannabis boosters saw big, broad wins on recreational legalization in places like New York and New Jersey, some states that have embraced full prohibition remain firmly planted.

“Every state that does not already have a medical marijuana law had something introduced” this year, said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for pro-legalization group Marijuana Policy Project. “Most of them have died.”

Still, the progress in some Republican-controlled state capitals suggests a shift away from the hardline positions long held by social conservatives and have buoyed the pro-marijuana movement. The final weeks of legislative sessions could bring more wins for advocates.

Here’s a look at how medical marijuana legalization proposals are playing out across the country this year — and what it means for the future of medical marijuana legalization efforts:

Medical marijuana holdouts

North Carolina: A bill to create a medical marijuana program in North Carolina has a powerful sponsor: Republican state Sen. Bill Rabon, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. His legislation would empower doctors to clear patients with “debilitating medical conditions” — diseases such as cancer, epilepsy and glaucoma — to use medical marijuana.

Garrett Perdue, founder of pro-legalization group NC Cann, said Rabon’s support gives the bill a decent chance of making it through the Senate — and maybe even the House — this session.

“If we'd had this conversation two weeks ago … I would have told you that I thought cannabis legislation of any form in North Carolina was three years away,” Perdue said recently. “The issue has the right champion, and that's the only difference.”

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