Medical marijuana issue on June Democratic Primary ballot

ccope@thestate.comApril 9, 2014 

A Democratic leader in the S.C. House said Wednesday that voters should have a voice in whether South Carolina allows the medical use of marijuana.

A non-binding referendum on the issue will be on the Democratic Primary ballot June 10, allowing voters in that primary to tell lawmakers what they think about the issue, said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford of Richland County.

The referendum will be one of five advisory questions on Democratic and Republican primary ballots in June. Voters in the state’s Republican Primary will get to register their opinion on banning abortion and eliminating the state’s income tax.

Putting advisory questions on primary ballots has been done in the past in an attempt to stir up voter interest and turnout.

In 1994, for instance, GOP primary voters were asked their opinion of removing the Confederate flag from atop the State House dome. Roughly three-quarters said they wanted the flag, subsequently removed, left where it was.

However, Rutherford is sponsoring a bill in the House that would allow some patients to use marijuana as part of their medical treatment for severe, chronic illnesses.

“While this may be the first year we are talking about medical marijuana in South Carolina, we are lagging behind the rest of the nation,” Rutherford said during a news conference Wednesday.

About 20 other states already allow some form of medical use of marijuana, he said.

At the news conference in the State House lobby, several S.C. residents spoke about their experiences with their medical conditions or ill relatives who, they said, could have benefitted from the medical use of marijuana.

Rutherford’s proposal comes a week after the S.C. House passed a bill that allows cannabis oil to be used by some patients who suffer seizures.

In addition to epilepsy, many health conditions could benefit from medical marijuana, said Chris Raffield of Sumter, who said he suffers from pain, nausea, lower back issues and loss of appetite.

“It (medical marijuana) would help me tremendously,” Raffield said, adding he now pays about $800 a month for synthetic marijuana.

The medical marijuana bill would authorize a person who has a debilitating medical condition and a medical verification form, completed by a physician who is registered to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, to obtain an identification card to use medical marijuana, Rutherford said.

It also would provide for the operation of dispensaries to cultivate, grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes in South Carolina, he said. “It allows farmers, who grew tobacco so well, to now look at growing medical marijuana, and license and operate as dispensaries.”

Registered patients also could possess up to six marijuana plants or two ounces of marijuana for their own personal use, Rutherford said.

State Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, said Rutherford’s proposal will face opposition in the Legislature.

Smith, one of 24 representatives to vote against the cannabis oil bill, said allowing medical use of marijuana could lead to its full legalization, which has led to issues in other states. “I want to make sure we don’t create more problems than we are correcting.”

Other primary questions

Legislators asked the S.C. Democratic Party to put questions about medical marijuana and allowing online gambling to pay to repair the state’s roads on that party’s June primary ballot, said Kristin Sosaine, spokesperson for the party.

“If legislators want to ask the opinion of the public on any issues, then we are happy to allow the people of South Carolina to decide,” Sosaine said.

In contrast, Republican elected leaders, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Nikki Haley, advocate a nationwide ban on online gambling.

The advisory questions on the Republican Party’s primary ballot would ban abortion and eliminate the state’s income tax. Those questions were drafted in consultation with party, faith and legislative leaders, said Matt Moore, chairman of the GOP.

“Our Republican Party platform declares that life is the first inalienable right,” Moore said. “Our platform also calls for significantly reducing the tax burden on the economy and taxpayers. This year’s ballot questions are an opportunity for Republican voters to reaffirm those principles.”

Haley has called for a gradual reduction in the state income tax. However, a proposal to eliminate that tax, introduced by state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, has languished in the Senate.

Meanwhile, some Republican legislators are pushing proposals to expand constitutional rights to fetuses, or unborn children, effectively banning abortion. Critics say the “personhood” proposals are unconstitutional, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade 1973 abortion decision.

Reach Cope at 803-771-8657

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