Medical Marijuana, Medicaid, and Poisoned Water: Three Proposed North Carolina Laws to Watch

Legalized medical marijuana in North Carolina has long seemed a distant possibility. That possibility appears to be getting closer at the NC state legislature. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

By Billy Ball

June 7, 2022

Your life is too busy to follow the state legislature moment for moment. We’re going to make it easier for you.

Hard as it might be for folks in Raleigh to believe, sometimes people go to work and come home without thinking for a minute about what’s happening in the state legislature. 

It’s understandable. We’re all busy. But there are more than a few legislative proposals in the works that could impact your day-to-day lives. 

We get it: The legislative process can be tedious. But too often, it’s when we’re not paying attention to the Republican-controlled General Assembly that something worrisome or potentially harmful happens. 

Let’s dig into a few bills worth paying attention to. 

The Inevitability of Medical Marijuana?

Funny thing about legalizing marijuana for medical purposes: For more than a decade, it’s seemed like an inevitability for North Carolina, but a distant inevitability. 

Like one of those never-ending hallways.

There are many indications in Raleigh that the inevitable might be sooner than we think. On Monday, the state Senate passed a bill that will legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Its primary backer, influential Republican Bill Rabon, spoke about the bill as a matter of empathy. 

“This bill is going to, in my opinion, help a lot of people at the end of their life, at a time that they need some compassion, at a time when what few days and what little time they have left should be as comfortable and as easy as they can be,” Rabon reportedly said. “And I really believe this is going to do that.”

The bill still has to run the gauntlet in the state House of Representatives. There is no guarantee the proposal is considered at all before this year’s short session of the legislature ends. 

Medicaid’s Meandering Path

Speaking of empathy. 

If you wanted to argue the Republican leadership at the legislature lacks it, you could start and end with Medicaid expansion. 

This mostly federally funded expansion of healthcare services for poor and moderate North Carolinians — about 600,000 or so people — could be a game-changer for people who haven’t been able to afford a trip to the doctor.

How big of a deal is this? The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2020 that there are more than a million non-elderly North Carolinians without health insurance. More than 3 million, or about 33% of the state’s population, had incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. 

When the federal government first offered to expand Medicaid in the states about a decade ago — part of former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reforms — the feds paid 100% of the bill. But the state legislature in North Carolina rejected it anyway. 

Today, the federal government pays 90% with no indication that number will change anytime soon. NC is one of 12 states today that hasn’t expanded yet. 

Last week, the state Senate, once the largest obstacle on Medicaid, overwhelmingly approved a bill for expansion. It’s not likely to pass the state House, at least not this year. House Speaker Tim Moore has made that clear

People who’ve been asked to “wait for it” on health care aren’t likely to abide another call for patience. 

Poisoned Water

State legislators aren’t exactly moving at top speed to correct decades of toxic pollution in North Carolina’s Cape Fear River Basin.

Cancers, reproductive disorders, and fetal development problems are linked to the so-called “forever compounds” (or PFAS – stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) produced and discharged into the local water supply by Chemours and its previous incarnation DuPont. 

That’s not in question. But lawmakers’ will to set enforceable legal standards for the compounds is, judging by the frustrated reactions of the Republicans and Democrats aligned behind House Bill 1095

This bill is the latest legislative attempt to address the health and safety of a half-million North Carolinians living in the seven counties with polluted water. The water in the Wilmington area has been particularly polluted, the Wilmington Star-News has reported.  

“I’m trying to hold my composure,” state Rep. Pricey Harrison reportedly said. “This bill will protect North Carolinians from being poisoned. I can’t believe this bill isn’t sailing through. I’m appalled.”

The legislation is currently in a House judiciary committee, but faces an uncertain future in the full state House and Senate. 


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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