Medical marijuana debate continues in South Carolina Senate

Irina Baranova

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Debate continued for a second day at the State House on Thursday on a bill to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina.

While the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Tom Davis, R – Beaufort, has been working for several years on this legislation, which would make South Carolina the 38th state to legalize medical marijuana, this is the closest it has ever been to becoming law.

With the Senate not in session Friday and Monday, the earliest lawmakers could vote on S.150, the SC Compassionate Care Act, would be next week after already debating for about six hours between Wednesday and Thursday.

While no amendments have been proposed yet, Davis said he plans to introduce at least one on the floor next week, relating to pharmacists’ role in the consultation and prescription process.

But much of the first two days of debate have been taken up with Davis addressing those colleagues’ concerns with his 59-page bill, which he said would give South Carolina the most restrictive and conservative medical marijuana law in the country.

“I think this is the sort of bill that South Carolinians want,” he said Thursday.

Most of the concerns were voiced by his fellow Republicans, including about driver impairment, pharmacists’ role, and if the legislation left too many loopholes for people to claim they suffer from ailments that would make them eligible for a prescription.

The bill outlines 13 medical conditions for which people would qualify for a prescription, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, PTSD, and chronic pain. For the latter two conditions, additional documentation would be required to prove the patient has either experienced traumatic events or has been diagnosed with a specific medical condition causing chronic pain.

Sen. Sandy Senn, R – Charleston, expressed doubt over how strictly that would be followed statewide.

“If you have seedy medical providers, they can simply say, ‘Hey dude, have you ever taken any other kind of medicines, do you have a mental health problem, why does your knee hurt?’ That’s OK?” Senn asked.

Davis responded it would not be OK, saying the bill outlines consequences for doctors who break the law when prescribing.

“I can’t speak to physicians and what they might do,” he said. “I can just say that it’s almost like a lawyer. A lawyer’s not supposed to embezzle funds. You could get disbarred.”

Davis’ bill does not legalize smokeable marijuana, a restriction he said he wrote in after discussion with law enforcement, including the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, to help officers more easily identify what is legal and what is not.

But SLED Chief Mark Keel has remained opposed to the bill, saying in the past that he does not support the legislation because marijuana is an illegal drug the FDA has not approved for treatment of any disease or condition and standing alongside fellow law enforcement officers at a news conference Wednesday outside the State House to encourage senators to vote no on S.150.

“No single legislature can bind the actions of a future legislature. So in that case, we could be two years, we could be four years down the line, and another legislature make the decision to turn this into recreational,” Palmetto Family Council President Dave Wilson said at the news conference. “And if that happens, we’ve opened up a system that has already had an entire complex built underneath it as its infrastructure.”

Davis said on the Senate floor on Thursday that he does not know if the state’s allowances for marijuana would become more or less restrictive over time, if his bill passes.

“It depends upon what the people of South Carolina want because we represent their interests,” he said.

If the bill passes the Senate, it would next move to the House, where it would be introduced in a subcommittee.

Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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