Earlier this month, a subcommittee for the South Carolina Senate unanimously voted to advance a new bill that could establish a legal system for medical marijuana in the state. With this vote, the bill will be sent to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee for review.
The bipartisan bill (H4037) was proposed by Republican Senator Tom Davis from Beaufort and Democratic Senator Brad Hutton from Orangeburg, both are a part of the Senate’s Medical Affairs Subcommittee. The bill would allow for patients suffering from specific chronic illness and conditions (such as cancer, glaucoma, arthritis, muscular dystrophy, PTSD, and seizures) to buy and possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis. It must be obtained from a legal, licensed dispensary and the patient must procure a recommendation from a licensed physician. South Carolina passed CBD-only bill into law last year, but this new legislation would expand medical cannabis into the realms of THC as well as expand the conditions that would qualify for treatment.
The bill is not meant to set up a system where cannabis is the only treatment for these conditions, but only to give doctor’s the ability to recommend marijuana as an alternative to other medicinal approaches. Additionally, the bill would set up a regulatory “seed-to-sale” tracking system and put the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control in charge of providing licenses to marijuana growers and dispensaries.
At a panel hearing for the bill, the senators listened for nearly two hours to objections set forth by law enforcement officers about how enacting the bill is a horrible idea. South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement Chief Mark Keel opposed the bill, stating that cannabis “is not legitimate medicine” and that enacting the bill would give the state’s youth easier access to stronger forms of marijuana.
“This puts South Carolina in the position of approving a crude street drug to treat almost anything,” Chief Keel said.
Law enforcement officials believe that the new medical marijuana program would give access to the creation of the equivalent of pill mills, which came about in the late 2000s where pharmacies were attached to clinics. These gave deceitful doctors the chance to make a large profit by overprescribing painkillers to addicts and having no one notice because the operations were all done in the clinic itself.
Chief Keel believes that allowing the medical marijuana program to pass would allow doctors and patients alike to take advantage of the new system and gain easy access to the substance simply for profit on the doctors end.
But Sen. Davis was there at every turn to push back the dissenters’ arguments.
“Any system we have is going to be abused,” Davis said. “The system we have now where doctors prescribe OxyContin, etc., is abused.”
Chief Keel even criticized the proposed “seed-to-sale” tracking system, saying that it is a useless system because it is impossible to track the product after it has been sold to the patient.
“In addition, availability drives up use,” Keel explained. “In states that have legalized medical marijuana, more adolescents use the drug than in states that have not.”
Others came to voice their dissent of the new bill. One of the speaker was Randy Cole, the CEO of Circle Park Behavioral Health Services, who explained that marijuana use for adolescents and teens was extremely harmful to their mental development.
“We want to look at way kids can move forward and not have the detrimental effects of marijuana on their lives,” Cole said. “We decided to try and tackle this, not only as a treatment provider but and intervention provider within the community.”
Even the local religious community showed up to voice their opinion. According to Mike Hendrick, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s Office of Public Policy, “Marijuana is a gateway drug which leads users to go on to other drugs which could destroy their life, or even end their life through overdose.”
The main issue with all of the dissenting opinions at the hearing, however, were that every one of them questioned the credibility of marijuana as a medicine rather than offering up different ways to actually strengthen the bill to cover the concerns that were voiced during the panel.
“This is an extremely tight, conservative small step forward in regard to getting something that is giving relief into the hands of the people who need it,” Davis said. “Yet, we have this 1960s, 1970s reefer madness mentality that somehow our public school system is going to collapse, capital investments will dry up and all sorts of parades of horrors will happen if we allow medicine to be put in the hands of the people who need it. To me that’s just not persuasive.”
Despite the large amount of dissent, the bill passed with a 5-0 vote and now heads to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee and will be discussed in January of next year when the General Assembly convenes.
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