By Leslee Kulba – On Asheville City Council’s consent agenda was a resolution in support of H185 and S648. Both bills aim to legalize pot – which advocates insist be referred to as medical cannabis – but only for qualified patients, growers, processors, caregivers, vendors, administrators, and physicians. Mayor Esther Manheimer said cities do not have the power to legalize controlled substances, but states do. Asheville’s entire legislative delegation is supportive; Terry VanDuyn being a primary sponsor of the Senate bill; John Ager, Susan Fisher, and Brian Turner co-sponsoring the House version.
The bill is not expected to cause marijuana usage to run amok. Rather, it seeks to add an annoying level of bureaucracy grownups have to deal with every day in the white market. The bill’s self-proclaimed intent is to, “provide a safe, regulated supply of quality medical cannabis for use by qualified patients who hold valid registry identification cards,” and, “generate sufficient revenue for the Department to maintain and operate the system.” The bills estimate that, after a four-year ramp-up, the legalized pot industry will garner $250 million a year for the state treasury.
To get started, any business approved for growing, processing, or selling medicinal cannabis will have to pay a $5,000 annual licensing fee. Vendors will have to submit to the state quarterly reports of every transaction, even when pot is given away. By way of monthly fees, growers and producers of pot-infused products will pay the state 10 percent of gross annual revenues; centers 15 percent. Then, on top of all else, a special 5-percent medical cannabis sales and use tax will apply to all transactions.
To ensure safety, persons wanting to smoke medical marijuana must be registered and licensed. Names will be kept in a confidential registry, which means nothing in the current cyber-hacking landscape; and users will be issued photo ID’s. Patients will only be allowed to possess what their physicians deem an “adequate supply.” Centers will be subject to random inspections. To protect persons who wish to remain insulated from the supply chain, the bill expressly bans smoking medical cannabis on school buses, on school property, in correctional facilities, or any other public place. It further allows insurance companies to refuse to cover costs of pot therapy and puts employers under no obligation to accommodate toking.
Like so many things at Asheville City Council meetings, only one side was presented. Sixteen people told their stories during public comment. Most shared testimonials of being healed themselves or having a loved one find relief. Marijuana was credited with treating, among other things, chronic pain, various forms of cancer, lack of focus, sleeplessness, PTSD, anxiety, Crohn’s disease, depression, spinal degeneration, muscular sclerosis, spasms, autism, and side effects of other medications.
Councilman Cecil Bothwell said Mission Health’s President and CEO Ron Paulus had said medical cannabis was the only way society was going to stop the opioid epidemic. He echoed members of the public who had added marijuana is natural with no side-effects. Others spoke about the boons legalization would have on the city’s budget. Timothy Sadler said it would reduce healthcare costs and crime rates, “and on top of that awesomeness,” it would grow the local tax base by creating local, low-skill jobs that pay living wages. “Not only is it morally reprehensible, Mike Fryar, to not support this position, it is the only politically reasonable position in this day and age…,” he said.
“Cannabis is a neutraceutical that’s for healing,” said Dr. Milton Byrd. “And if you understand the science, get out of the way of the politics and stop it so we can heal as a society.”
Andrew Fletcher thanked council for, “doing something that government rarely gets to do, which is to show compassion to people and restore a little bit of credibility in government, because the government at the federal level has been lying about this topic for decades.”
Terri Boyd explained why the LGBT community had made so much progress when medical cannabis users hadn’t. “The difference was that the LGBT community came out of the closet, and they stepped up, and they asked for what was right.” She added, “The crime is not using cannabis to illegally heal yourself, the crime is knowing that it’s a medicine and that it can help people, and keeping it from us.”
Todd Stimson, who with his partner and legal counsel drafted the resolution, said it was written with “love and compassion” to address “issues, facts, and relevant matters; not preconceived notions based on rumor and tradition.”
Manheimer thanked Stimson, saying, “I hope it’s OK if we call you the Kevorkian of the medical marijuana cause,” after all he’s suffered at the hand of the law in his crusade. “It’s a good thing,” she assured.
Council passed the resolution with the consent agenda 6-0. Councilor Gordon Smith was absent.