SC lawmakers hear from both sides on medical marijuana
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina legislative panel spent hours Thursday hearing from supporters and opponents of a medical marijuana bill, even though the proposal has little chance of passing this year.
The Compassionate Care Act would allow patients with terminal, debilitating medical conditions to purchase up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana or its equivalent every two weeks if authorized by their physician. Sponsors say it sets some of the strictest conditions in the nation.
Members of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee said they held two meetings on the proposal to make sure all sides were heard.
“To really understand the issue, you have to move beyond just the medical science to written things, statistics and hear directly from the stakeholders,” Republican Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort said during the morning hearing.
Davis has been working to pass a bill allowing medical marijuana in South Carolina for years. He said he’s trying to craft a proposal that enables doctors to work in the best interest of patients who may benefit from using medical cannabis but prevents the drug from making it to recreational users.
But the bill likely won’t pass this year. It missed a Wednesday deadline where bills that haven’t passed at least one legislative chamber require a two-thirds vote.
Sen. Kevin Johnson said he thinks the bill is improving, but he still has trouble supporting it because it lacks the backing of doctors and law enforcement. The proposal needs to regulate marijuana more tightly, and the drug should be directly distributed by doctors instead a dispensary, the Democrat from Manning said.
“I won’t say that I won’t ever support it because I do want people who have a medical need to be able to get help, but I don’t want there to be a lot of unintended consequences,” Johnson said.
State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said he can’t support the bill because it will likely worsen the mental health and substance abuse problems some people already face. While 33 other states have approved medical marijuana, South Carolina doesn’t need to conduct that kind of social experiment on its people, Keel said.
“I went into many drug houses where I saw children being neglected and abused because they had drug addicted parents, so I’m just as compassionate as anyone about it,” said Keel, who has worked as an undercover narcotics agent.
Some physicians who attended the hearings said they don’t support the legislation because there hasn’t been wide-scale clinical testing of the medical benefits of cannabis and they can’t prescribe a substance that is not federally regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Sen. Darrell Jackson said he thinks people are missing the point of the bill.
“We are talking about a situation where people who are suffering from debilitating, painful experiences get help,” said the Democrat and Baptist minister from Hopkins. “If we were talking about legalizing all marijuana, recreational marijuana, I would have a different position.”
The committee plans to meet next week to continue discussing the legislation.
This is the first year of a two-year legislative session in South Carolina, so the bill will survive into 2020.