The Story Behind Senate Bill 579 – Legalizing Medical Marijuana


Senate Bill 579, a bill that was introduced by Senator Joel Ford to legalize medical marijuana, could get re-introduced at the General Assembly session that starts May 16.

This bill is special for one North Carolina voter. The bill is named after Hyong Yi’s wife, Catherine Ann Zanga. She died from ovarian cancer about four years ago. Yi says the two often discussed using medical marijuana to help ease the intense pain.

“She wanted it as an option. If it was an option, she would have used it,” Hyong Yi said.

Yi says his wife worked as a prosecutor. Since medical marijuana is illegal in North Carolina, Yi says his wife felt uncomfortable using it.

“There’s no way she was going to break the law. That is not what she was going to do. She made sure I wasn’t going to break the law. No she followed the rules – as hard as it was to watch her suffer – it was important to her this is the law of the state of North Carolina and we are going to follow it,” Yi said.

Yi’s wife passed away in 2014. In 2016 Yi ran into Senator Joel Ford. Yi told Ford about the pain his wife experienced during her 21 month fight.  They talked about how medical marijuana could have helped ease the pain but they would never know.

“I was just immediately moved with compassion to do something.” Senator Joel Ford said.

Ford introduced Senate Bill 579 but it didn’t gain traction.

“I think it is going to take some more education and it’s going to take a little more time, but we are moving in the right direction and I believe we are going to get it passed,” Ford said.

The politician says he hopes to introduce the bill again when the General Assembly reconvenes. After hearing Yi’s story he says he’s not giving up.

“Medical marijuana is one of the alternative pain relievers that we have to introduce safely into our community and into our state.” Ford said.

Yi hopes the laws in North Carolina will change soon. He doesn’t want other people to go through the type of pain his wife went through.

“This could potentially mean help for other people and there are thousands of people – just in the Charlotte area alone suffering from cancer,” Yi said.

Yi says this bill is personal. He says he wants this bill to be successful because his wife’s name is on it. He hopes her story will help get it passed.

“And if her story sways one vote then I think it’s worth it,” Yi said.

When Zanga passed away, her two children were young. Yi says his wife feared her children would not remember her. Yi says with Senate Bill 579 on the books, his wife will be unforgettable to her kids.

“Whether it becomes law or not it’s got her name on it and that is a legacy that I think she would be a little bit embarrassed by but also I think she would be deeply proud,” Yi said.