By Colin Campbell

A state House committee unanimously rejected a proposal to legalize medical marijuana after an emotional hourlong hearing that ended with a legislator saying he was assaulted by a marijuana advocate.

House Bill 78 marks the most progress any marijuana proposal has had in the N.C. General Assembly. Two years ago, a similar bill was directed to the House Rules Committee, where Republican leaders allowed four people to speak before cutting off discussion and killing the bill.

Wednesday's hearing took place in the more prominent House Judiciary I Committee, and more than a dozen people spoke about the proposal in a packed meeting room. "For those in the room speaking today, this is huge -- that you're even here allowed to speak before the Judiciary I Committee," said Rep. Becky Carney, a Charlotte Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. "That's a big step. It's not a defeat."

Other supporters of medical marijuana didn't see the result that way. Some vowed to move to another state, and one man was detained by police after Rep. Dean Arp said he was struck in the back. Arp declined to press charges, and the man was released after writing an apology letter.

"We can't hit folks during civil discourse," said Arp, a Monroe Republican who made the motion to reject the marijuana bill. "This is the first time I've ever been struck. I was very shocked by it."

But Arp said he's putting the incident behind him. "I have accepted his apology," he said.

Before the vote, medical marijuana users pleaded with House members to make it legal. Some were military veterans, and some were members of a group called Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

"If we know that cannabis treats the brain's injury, how in God's name can we not let the veterans have it?" said Perry Parks, a military veteran who uses marijuana for pain relief. "It is immoral to deny veterans the ability to take this medication."

The House proposal would only make the drug legal for patients with a "chronic, debilitating medical condition." But opponents of the bill said it could pave the way for widespread legalization, turning North Carolina into Colorado, where the drug is sold in stores.

"Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is both unnecessary and a slippery slope," said Tami Fitzgerald of the conservative N.C. Values Coalition. "It could open the door to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, which we do not want in this state."

The Christian Action League of North Carolina and the N.C. Family Policy Council also spoke against the bill.

The bill was sponsored by Democrats, but neither of the two Democrats on the committee -- Reps. Grier Martin and Darren Jackson of Wake County -- voted for it Wednesday.

Supporters of medical marijuana say they'll now lobby for another proposal, House Bill 317, which legalizes marijuana use for terminally ill patients in hospice care. That bill has the same sponsors and has also been referred to the Judiciary I Committee.

(c)2015 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)