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North Carolina General Assembly Approves Medical Marijuana Use

The near-unanimous vote is seen as historic and sets up a state network for supply and distribution.

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This story originally appeared on Benzinga

A key Senate committee overwhelmingly approved a proposal to allow medical marijuana use in North Carolina for certain conditions and to set up a state network for supply and distribution. The vote was seen as historic.

A change of course

No North Carolina Senate committee has ever taken a vote on medical marijuana, reported WRAL, a local TV network.

One House committee voted down a proposal back in 2015 and no bill since then has been heard in committee in either chamber until Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee bipartisan vote.

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The bill was amended to reduce the number of distribution centers from a maximum of 80 statewide to 40, and to lower the fine for an infraction to $100. Trafficking in medical marijuana would receive a slightly harsher penalty than trafficking non-medical marijuana.

"We plan to tighten up any and all loose ends," said State Sen. Bill Rabon, the bill's sponsor.

"I have been quite moved by this because of my personal experience, and at times, it has been difficult for me to talk to some people about that," Rabon, a cancer survivor, told the committee. "But I will say again that that time has come that this needs to be discussed, and we need to compassionately care for our fellow man in any way that we can."

The Senator's colleagues agree

"We have people that need certain kinds of help to get better, and I'm concerned that we do all the things that are necessary so that all of our citizens can live a better quality of life," said Sen. Paul Lowe, another primary sponsor of the bill.

Republican Sen. Kathy Harrington added: "If you'd asked me six months ago if I'd be supporting this bill, I'd probably have said no, but life comes at you fast," she said. "My husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and has been going through some cancer treatments, and I believe we've already had some moments in our lives where this type of medication would have assisted."

Related: More States Have Made Marijuana Legal, So Why Are More People Getting Arrested?

Legalization advocates say the bill, as written, does not go far enough, that it is restrictive and too narrowly drawn. Medical conditions like chronic pain, mental health issues and opioid use reduction are not included.

On the other hand, several religious conservative groups are against the bill because it goes too far.

The vote was by voice and still has two more committee hearings before it goes to the Senate floor for a vote, which could happen during the second week of July. The bill would then have to pass the state House.