Fletcher considers medical marijuana

Medical marijuana isn’t an issue that small town governments in Western North Carolina typically wrangle with, but Town Council members plan to take it up at their meeting here Monday night.

The discussion could be a prelude to a bill proponents plan to introduce in the N.C. General Assembly this year that would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Dr. Milton Byrd is urging the Fletcher council to pass a resolution supporting cannabis for therapeutic uses and said he will speak at Monday’s meeting.

Mayor Bill Moore said that while the request is unusual, council members will take it seriously.

“We’ll vote up or down on it,” he said. “We’re just going to take care of business.”

Byrd, a retired physician who served three terms on the council, said he’ll make the case that research clearly shows marijuana is an effective treatment for some ailments. He said he sometimes uses the drug to relieve pain from a spinal injury that left him disabled.

“There are many conditions of medical necessity where cannabis is the best practice,” Byrd said. “At some point there needs to be some compassion from the bureaucracy.”

Moore said he can’t support the legalization of medical marijuana because he’s not knowledgeable about the subject.

“I’m not an authority on marijuana. I don’t think anybody on Town Council is,” the mayor said. “It’s kind of a controversial issue.”

Byrd, 59, is medical director of an Asheville-based organization called N.C. Cannabis Patients Network that is pushing for legalization.

The group’s executive director, Jean Marlowe, said it is lining up support for a legalization bill in the state legislature. A similar bill introduced in 2009 died in committee.

Marlowe said the move would generate more than $200 million in tax revenue and create more than 2,000 jobs the first year. Fifteen other states have legalized medical marijuana.

“We feel like this is a wonderful time for our state to take a look at this,” she said.

State Rep. Patsy Keever, D-Buncombe, said she supports legalization.

“Anybody who has a chronic disease and is in a great deal of pain should have access to medical marijuana,” Keever said. “My husband died of cancer. My understanding is medical marijuana is a safer, cheaper, natural way of alleviating pain.”

State Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, a co-sponsor of the 2009 bill, said she’s doubtful the legislation will get much traction in the Republican-controlled legislature.

“I can certainly see where medically prescribed marijuana would be of great use for folks suffering from a variety of diseases,” she said. “I just don’t think the environment is conducive to it right now in the legislature.”

Byrd was serving on the Fletcher council in 2004 when he was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He resigned from council, but a Superior Court judge later threw out the conviction, ruling that Fletcher police didn’t have probable cause to search Byrd’s home.

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