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A law to legalize the use of medical marijuana in South Carolina is unlikely to pass this year, but cannabis advocates are still positive that progress is being made. A state Senate subcommittee narrowly voted to pass an amended MMJ bill this week, but the state House leadership blocked a key vote on that chamber's version of the bill.
The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, introduced by state Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy last January, would set up a licensed and regulated medical marijuana program allowing qualifying patients to receive cannabis recommendations from accredited physicians. “Truly all I am trying to do is get medicine in the hands of people who need it," Davis said of his legislation, the Independent Mail reports. “We cannot honestly and in good faith tell the people of South Carolina that we are addressing the opioid crisis if we are turning blinders to a much more benign alternative.”
The bill has faced strong opposition from local law enforcement, however. State Sen. Kevin Johnson argued that the bill would be abused by “people who want marijuana for recreational use,” according to The State. Other lawmakers expressed their doubts that cannabis even has medical benefits, despite the overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary.
To address these concerns, Davis proposed that a number of highly restrictive amendments be added to the Senate version of the bill. One amendment would restrict the available forms of medical cannabis to vapor, edible, or oil form, and prohibit the sale or use of cannabis as a plant. Another amendment would grant police access to any business involved in growing, processing, or dispensing cannabis at any time. The requirements for physicians wishing to be certified as medical cannabis providers would also be tightened.
Even with these restrictive concessions, the bill barely passed the committee, with a 3-2 vote. The bill will now move on to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee. Sen. Davis does not believe that his bill has a chance of success this year, but advocates are hopeful that the amended version of the bill will get bill signed into law next year. Davis told the Independent Mail that medical marijuana “isn't going to go away…We have an opportunity right now to be a model for the nation. We can put forward what a truly conservative, patient-physician-centered medical cannabis bill looks like.”
A House version of the bill has been stalled indefinitely after the chamber's leadership reportedly blocked an important vote on the bill this week. State Rep. Jonathan Hill has accused House Speaker Jay Lucas of intentionally extending floor proceedings to prevent the the bill from being heard. Hill also said that House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee Chairman Leon Howard deliberately cancelled a meeting of his committee in order to prevent a key vote on the bill.
Hill said that Lucas and Howard "think that they know better than doctors and patients — and it shows just how how out of touch they are with the people of South Carolina," the Independent Mail reports. “Folks this is utterly inexcusable, and I’m not going to stand for it,” he added. Howard hit back, calling Hill “the most ineffective, worthless piece of crap that I have ever served with.”
Regardless of the complications, advocates are still hopeful that the bill is on track to eventually pass. "We're making progress," Janel Ralph, executive director of the patient advocacy group Compassionate South Carolina, said to The State. "The bill is moving forward."
Support for medical cannabis has been slowly growing in the Palmetto State over the past several years. In 2014, lawmakers voted to allow low-THC CBD oil treatment for children with epilepsy. Last year, another bill was passed allowing 20 farmers to grow 20 acres of hemp apiece, which will be harvested for oils as well as for textiles. A poll last year found that 78% of South Carolina voters support legal medical marijuana, and even former law enforcement officials have spoken out in support of legalization, increasing hopes that legislators will eventually respect their constituents’ wishes.