There are a lot of great therapeutic reasons for South Carolina’s medical marijuana bill to pass this year, but the likelihood of it happening is dwindling.
The bill often is described by lead sponsor and GOP Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, as the most conservative proposal to allow for the medical use of marijuana in the country. It would permit doctors to prescribe oral or topical forms of marijuana for therapeutic medical use to alleviate suffering for chronic pain, cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy and other debilitating conditions. The legislation specifically would not allow medical marijuana via smoking.
Thirty-eight states, including Mississippi at the polls in November, have approved some form of medical marijuana. Four in five South Carolina Democrats said they were for medical marijuana in a non-binding question on the 2018 primary ballot.
While the proposal has been debated for several years in South Carolina, the measure got a boost this week when a Senate committee voted 9-5 to send Davis’s bill to the floor. But it’s likely to fail again, many say. Among the reasons:
Time. If the bill doesn’t pass the Senate by next Thursday, rules require a supermajority for it to be sent on to the S.C. House for consideration. The Senate calendar, already packed with other legislation, is working against the bill.
“Who knows? Maybe no one will tie us up if we can get it over to the House by the (Thursday) deadline,” said a co-sponsor, Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston. “But I suspect even if we do, there will be turbulence.”
House. Even if it makes it to the House, the calendar is working against the bill. The legislative session is slated to end next month.
“There is very little time left in the legislative session to review the bill in committee and debate it in the House,” said a supporter, S.C. Rep. Wendy Brawley, D-Hopkins.
Opposition. While polling shows big majorities in favor of medical marijuana, opposition from doctors and law enforcement officers is strong. That makes lawmakers from both parties take a significant pause.
“My head tells me to vote against this,” Senate President Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said, according to the Associated Press.
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said he is concerned about a variety of community impacts if medical marijuana were to be approved. And if it is, there would need to be significant work on how it is made available so it isn’t abused.
“Medical marijuana is deceptive in how it is being presented across the country and locally,” he told Statehouse Report, City Paper‘s sister publication. “I believe at some point marijuana will be legalized but what we have learned around the country is there is no plan for the implementation process.
“There is a significant amount of money and power behind the hard push for legalization and ‘medicinal use’ is the means being used to bring this issue across the finish line. We know from other states it has little to do with medical applications and is all about expanding legalization.”
Pure politics. The state Senate generally is the more moderate of the state’s two legislative chambers. In the House, the bill would face partisan opposition from right-wing forces, state Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said.
“I don’t know how this bill gets out when it appears the far-far right wing of the Republican Party is controlling the legislative session,” Robertson said. “You’ve seen it with the open carry (gun) bill. You’ve seen it with the fetal heartbeat (abortion) bill.”
A path to passage
Meanwhile Gov. Henry McMaster, a former attorney general who has opposed the proposal, has hinted there may be a way to pass medical marijuana, particularly because Davis makes a convincing argument that medical marijuana alleviates a tremendous amount of suffering.
“I’m open to hearing more about it because it’s clear that it alleviates a lot of suffering,” McMaster said last month. “The trick is how to keep that from turning loose marijuana production in the state that would cause damage.”
Robertson said he became a convert to the treatment a few years ago during a spring lunch in a Columbia restaurant.
“If you’ve ever been sitting at a table in a restaurant and see parents bring out cannabis oil when a child is having an epileptic attack, it changes your entire position on this issue,” he said. “I was not a believer until that occurred. I saw the medication work immediately” and calm the child.
Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he remained hopeful the bill would pass this year. But he added, “Law enforcement and the South Carolina Medical Association continue to oppose the bill making the task to pass a bill more daunting.
“But for the many South Carolinians who are suffering and whose symptoms would be treated by the prescription of medical marijuana, this is a fight worth continuing even in the face of headwinds against us.”
This story was originally published by Statehouse Report.