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July 15, 2024 7:23 am

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Could parental concerns dash hopes for medical marijuana in NC’s short session?



“I was uncomfortable in my own skin. And so, marijuana helped me to be comfortable,” Casey Temple told members of the House Select Committee on Substance Abuse last week.

Temple, who has been in recovery for more than a decade now, told legislators that while he started as social smoker in high school, by his late teens he developed an addiction and was smoking cannabis more frequently alone to cope with depression.

By age 20, Temple stuck a 12-gauge shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger. Thirty-six surgeries later, Temple is convinced that marijuana took away any inhibition he had that day.

“I didn’t realize that it was making my depression worse. And at that time, I had no ability to tell another human how I felt. And so, I used marijuana as my medication. I was self-medicating,” he confessed.

an image of the House Select Committee on Substance Abuse
 Casey Temple shares his story of marijuana addiction with members of the House Select Committee on Substance Abuse. (Photo: Screengrab from NCGA stream)

Temple said his story should be a cautionary tale as lawmakers consider whether marijuana should be legalized.

“[It] is not in my opinion, the way to go.”

Tisha Temple followed her husband and told the House committee that she has been living in long-term recovery since 2014.

Formerly incarcerated, she works as a certified North Carolina addiction specialist.

“I would love to be able to tell you that when a person finds recovery that they are able to always say this dysfunction ends with us. But unfortunately, that is not our story,” Tisha said in sharing that she and Casey’s son has also struggled.

After the COVID pandemic as schools reopened, their son began using marijuana.

“We had noticeable changes in behavior, signs of depression, increased isolation, and disengagement from activities. Our son, who was very interested in soccer and football, became very interested in isolating in his room and making bad decisions,” she said.

Tisha said they soon discovered marijuana vape pens throughout their home.

“The hiding places were stunning even to a woman recovering from opioid use disorder who spent ten years in active heroin addiction and homelessness,” Tisha shared.

Bad behavior led him to steal a car and flee to Ohio. After his arrest, Tisha hoped the court would hold her son and help find a solution.  He was placed on probation.

“Now I’m scared. What is going to become of him as an adult because he already has a record making bad decisions by using marijuana?”

As drug possession rises in schools, a call for action

Carla Pearce told lawmakers that she has served as a social worker for 25 years in different schools.

But many schools are failing to act on marijuana use, especially when it involves adults.

“Last week I was in the front office of one of my schools. I almost got a contact high with a parent signing and their kids late,” Pearce said. “I was really shocked that nothing is said. It’s almost like we just excuse marijuana on every level. That it’s just the lesser drug.”

Her own son has struggled with marijuana, with few legal consequences for his behavior.

Pearce told legislators that school resource officers (SROs) have also failed to act.

“I’m really perplexed as to why our as our officers are not more emboldened and able,” said Pearce. “It’s almost like I feel like our as our officers are just sitting at the school because of school shootings. And they’re just there because now we feel protected because we have these officer there. There is so many proactive things they could be doing.”

Data from the NC Department of Public Instruction notes an uptick in drug use since the pandemic. School officials recorded 7,125 offenses for possession of a controlled substance during the 2022-23 school year. That’s up from 5,250 offenses in 2021-22. The report does not offer a breakdown of what substances students or adults had in their possession.

a chart shows the number of controlled substance incidents in state public schools in recent years
 Source: NC Department of Public Instruction

New session reignites an old debate

The testimony from Pearce and the Temples comes just weeks ahead of the 2024 legislative session that begins in April.

Last session, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) urged his colleagues to pass North Carolina’s Compassionate Care Act, authorizing the use of medical marijuana.

The Wilmington Republican shared an emotional admission with colleagues of how his illegal use of marijuana helped him survive an aggressive form of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with stage three colon cancer.

“I did that until I completed my treatment. That’s the only reason I’m alive today,” Rabon said last May.

The Compassionate Care Act would allow doctors to authorize cannabis in treating more than a dozen debilitating medical condition including cancer, AIDS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A Compassionate Use Advisory Board would oversee the rollout of the program and could add additional qualifying medical conditions.

Rep. Carla Cunningham
 Rep. Carla Cunningham (Photo: NCGA)

State Senators passed the bill in the ’23 session, but members in the House failed to act.

Supporters hope that this is the year North Carolina joins 38 other states in allowing the medical use of cannabis.

Rep. Carla Cunningham (D -Mecklenburg) told her colleagues she is sympathetic to these parental worries, but numerous variables play a role in an individual’s addiction.

“Marijuana has been used for years for narrow-angle glaucoma. It’s been used for years for chemotherapy to curve the nausea,” said Cunningham, a registered nurse.

“In most cases, when the marijuana is grown and it’s pure and not mixed with any other derivative, then in most cases it’s not going to harm you to the extreme level.”

The House Select Committee on Substance Abuse took no action following last week’s testimony.  It’s likely they will revisit the discussion if Senate Bill 3 gains traction in the House during the short session.

North Carolina remains one of only a dozen states without some form of legal medical marijuana.

Meredith College poll released earlier this year found 78% of North Carolina voters favor of medical marijuana legalization, compared to 18 percent who are opposed.

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This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.