Damn, what a week for North Carolina politics. Instead of the normal partisan divide, we’ve seen movement on important bipartisan bills that are good for the state. The state board of education also seems to have come to consensus on teacher pay raise. Every now and then, we can come together for a better state.
At 4:20pm on Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana with broad bipartisan support. It’s the second time they’ve passed it. Last year, the bill died in the House without a vote. This year, Speaker Tim Moore believes the bill has at least a decent chance to pass.
That’s good news for North Carolinians. The current bill limits use for a fairly narrow and specific set of ailments, but would still bring revenue to the state and offer relief for people who suffer but want alternatives to more powerful and addictive drugs like opioids. In time, restrictions would likely loosen to allow broader use, especially as more states legalize it for recreational use.
The Senate bill has some flaws, though. As Pat Oglesby, an attorney who advises states on marijuana policy points out, the bill would turn the business over to out-of-state corporate interests and take much of the profits out of North Carolina. The House needs to fix those problems. We have the potential to build a locally-owned and locally-grown industry that provides jobs and profits to struggling rural communities. We shouldn’t squander this opportunity.
Legalized weed is coming to North Carolina eventually. We should embrace it now and we should get it right, even if it takes more time to implement. Oglesby suggests setting up a state system as a transition to a locally-owned privatized model. If conservatives who prefer a free enterprise system disagree, they can make the state system time-limited, mandating a privately-run system in five years, but a state system could get distribution up and running quickly without turning our industry over the monopolistic out-of-state corporations.
Let’s get it done, though. We shouldn’t postpone the inevitable like we did the lottery, losing millions of dollars to other states. Let’s keep as much revenue in North Carolina as possible.
And yesterday, the House and Senate announced they have reached an agreement on Medicaid expansion. We will finally join the ranks of the vast majority of other states in providing health care to working people who fall between the cracks of Medicaid and private insurance. This agreement is a big deal. It will likely improve the health of our citizens and also put money into rural hospitals that are struggling.
Part of the agreement brought an end to Certificate of Need (CON)laws that help keep hospital monopolies and limit the ability of private providers to deliver services. North Carolina has some of the most restrictive CON laws in the country. It’s time the system gets reformed. Hospitals that have warned the loosing CON restrictions would cause loss of service have been decreasing access to service for decades. It’s a good move.
Finally, State Board of Education voted unanimously to request a 10% raise for teachers as well as a pilot program designed to retain new teachers. Those proposals are timely and needed to combat high teacher turnover and to acknowledge that teachers are an essential part of our economy and economic development. Without them, we don’t have the workforce we need to supply workers and attract businesses.
The vote crossed partisan lines with Cooper appointees voting alongside Republicans Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt and Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson. Robinson will likely be the GOP nominee for governor in 2024. That puts him on the record as being pro-teacher.
We still have plenty to disagree about, but, this week, we’ve got bipartisan agreement on matters that can impact our state. Legalized marijuana with not only provide revenue, but save money in our judicial and public safety systems. Let’s just get the details right to build a homegrown and locally owned industry. Medicaid expansion will improve healthcare for both people and communities. And consensus on dramatically increasing teacher pay can improve our schools and our future. Let’s applaud progress.