CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Medical marijuana legalization is sure to be a hot point of debate at the state house this week.
A special debate is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon on the senate floor.
The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) calls it a win for South Carolinians suffering from certain medical conditions like cancer or PTSD, after years of compromise to get his Compassionate Care Act to this point.
But it’s gotten its fair share of criticism.
“A lot of it is, two baby steps forward and three back,” Scott Weldon said.
Weldon is the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in South Carolina.
He founded the original chapter in the Lowcountry.
“We believe that the harms imposed by the enforcement of unconstitutional marijuana laws are more harmful than anything the plant could ever do to somebody,” he said.
He believes it’s a step in the right direction.
The bill would legalize weed for medicinal purposes, something more than 70% of states in the U.S. have already done.
But South Carolina advocates feel burned by the limitations it imposes. It’s considered one of the most conservative of its kind.
Most notably, if the law passes patients wouldn’t be able to smoke the drug and couldn’t get prescriptions for the actual flower.
“The big concern really is, the taking away of smokeable type versions, because the efficacy of smoking is much more beneficial for some patients especially vets with PTSD. But because of the whim of law enforcement and them not knowing how to differentiate between the smell of medical marijuana and the smell of recreational marijuana, they just don’t want to smell it burning, whatsoever,” Weldon said.
The bill also includes a provision that would prevent gun owners from obtaining a medical marijuana card based on the 1986 Gun Control Act.
The federal law does not allow a user of a controlled substance from purchasing or owning a firearm.
“We have a lot of people in South Carolina that are very concerned about that. They’re very steadfast believers in their Second Amendment right and they don’t want to have the government saying ‘oh well just because you take this particular medication now, we’re going to remove your right to possess and you know to protect yourself’,” Weldon said.
The bill is opposed by both Attorney General Alan Wilson and SLED chief Mark Keel. Keel said his position has not changed on medical marijuana and remains opposed to it.
A full statement from Keel reads:
I remain very concerned about the short term and long-term effects this legislation will have on the state I have devoted my life to serving. Over my 43 years in law enforcement in South Carolina, I have seen the damage that drugs cause to children, families, and communities. In South Carolina and across the United States, marijuana is the number one reason for addiction and treatment admissions for minors between the ages of 12 and 17. Simply put, passing this legislation will make marijuana more accessible to our most vulnerable, our children.
Meanwhile, Senator Davis has spent seven years working to make medical marijuana legal, with a close call last session.
He said he has more faith, this time around.
“I do think it’s the year,” he said earlier this month. “I’m confident that I have a majority of Senators in favor of this bill.”
Weldon says he’s “skeptically optimistic” and hopeful that decriminalization bills may soon follow.
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