Here are the pros and cons behind South Carolina’s medical marijuana debate
A decision by a key Senate committee on whether to legalize marijuana for medical use in South Carolina will have to wait until next year.
The S.C. Senate’s Medical Affairs Committee, which was expected to vote Thursday on whether to advance the Compassionate Care Act, is considering a raft of late-breaking amendments, including dropping actual botanical marijuana from the bill. One amendment would only allow derivatives such as oils and creams.
The amendments are intended to further address the concerns of the bill’s opponents, such as the State Law Enforcement Division and the S.C. Medical Association, and help sway undecided senators.
Bill author Tom Davis, a Republican senator from Beaufort, said he would use the break to better inform senators who might not have had time to absorb the changes.
“We’re in the first year of a two-year process,” he said. “We have a comprehensive amendment that addresses a lot of concerns that people have expressed. . . . Time is on our side here.”
Last year, the Compassionate Care Act advanced to the floors of the S.C. House and Senate; but the session ended before the bill could be debated by the full chambers.
In a question asked exclusively for The State newspaper in 2016, a Winthrop University poll showed nearly 4 in 5 S.C. residents – or 78 percent – supported legalizing medical marijuana. Meanwhile, only 39 percent of South Carolinians said they support legalizing pot for recreational use, a move opposed by 54 percent of those surveyed.
This year, Davis resubmitted the bill with renewed vigor. He met with SLED, the S.C. Sheriffs’ Association, the S.C. Medical Association and others — and vetted a first round of amendments as chair of a Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee.
Earlier this month the subcommittee passed the bill on to the full committee, with a second round of amendments drawn from Davis’ and other senators’ meetings with stakeholders.
However, the bill failed to meet a April 10 deadline to pass to the House, meaning it was already pushed to 2020, the second year of a two-year legislative session.
The latest round of amendments were drawn from a day-long public hearing held by the committee last week.
Besides banning the sale of botanical marijuana, the amendments include:
▪ Limiting the modes of delivery to exclude bongs and other paraphernalia associated with recreational use.
▪ Adding money to research ways to detect if someone is driving under the influence of marijuana.
(That’s difficult to determine now because, unlike driving under the influence of alcohol, there’s no standard for how much THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound in marijuana that gets you high — causes someone to be impaired. Also, for regular marijuana users, THC can remain in their bodies for up to 30 days, which means someone who tests positive may not have used marijuana for days before being tested.)
▪ Banning certain transportation workers from using cannabis and tightening the definition of a debilitating disease.
▪ Requiring in-patient office visits to receive authorization for cannabis use and to objectively prove the symptoms of a qualifying debilitating condition.
▪ Limiting use for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to military members who have been in combat, first responders and victims of violent crime.
▪ Limiting which doctors can authorize marijuana use — for example, ear, eye and nose specialists cannot authorize cannabis use for epilepsy. The doctor has to have expertise in the illness he or she is authorizing marijuana as treatment.
“I want it to be an extremely conservative bill . . . a purely medical bill,” Davis said.
Davis promises “the most socially conservative, strictly regulated medical cannabis bill in the country,” one that allows marijuana to be consumed to treat “a very tightly defined universe of debilitating conditions.”
However both Keel and Medical Association officials have said that they won’t support legalization until marijuana is recognized and approved as a drug by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Gov. Henry McMaster has said he would follow law enforcement’s lead in his decision to veto any potential bill from the General Assembly.
Thirty-three states have approved marijuana for medical use. Ten have legalized it for recreational use. However, marijuana for any purpose is still illegal at the federal level.
See highlights of the legislation here.