A bill aimed at expanding South Carolina’s extremely limited medical marijuana program is finding some unlikely support from the right side of the aisle - thanks in some part to the state’s rampant opioid issue.
Rep. Eric Bedingfield voted against the 2014 legislation that created a CBD-only, low-access medical marijuana program in South Carolina. But three years later, Bedingfield is the number one supporter of a bill in the state house looking to expand the state’s program to include up to two ounces of smokable cannabis.
"My mindset has changed from somebody who looked down on it as a negative substance to saying, 'This has benefits,'" Bedingfield told the Associated Press.
That change was set in motion by the death of Bedingfield’s son, following a six-year battle with opioid addiction. Bedingfield told reporters in January that it was time for politicians to allow people suffering from chronic pain to benefit from a plant instead of prescription painkillers.
Bedingfield isn’t the only right-wing Representative in South Carolina’s state house supporting the bill. Rep. Bill Herbkersman supports the bill because cannabis helped his brother fight pain and keep an appetite through a battle with skin cancer.
"We shouldn't be forcing a choice between breaking the law or not taking care of members of your family...They call it a gateway drug, but sometimes it's just a gateway to a little bit better life, or what you have left of a life," Herbkersman said.
Republicans have promoted the new bill’s “seed-to-sale tracking” system as a safeguard against medical marijuana finding its way into recreational joints. Still, the state’s law enforcement community isn’t convinced, and still staunchly opposes the new legislation.
Jarrod Bruder, director of the state Sheriffs' Association, told lawmakers that the group couldn’t put their support behind a substance that the federal government still considers as dangerous as heroin or cocaine.
But while Bruder and the current Sheriffs balk at the idea of expanded medical marijuana, the Association’s last director, Jeff Moore, has put his full support behind the new bill.
Moore was the head of the SC Sheriffs’ Association for 32 years before retiring in 2014, and says that cannabis has helped save his son’s life after a continued bout with PTSD stemming from two tours in Iraq. Moore’s son lives in Michigan now, where he has access to the medical marijuana that he’s not allowed to in South Carolina - something his lawman father is trying to help change.
"His life has made a complete, 180-degree turnaround.” Moore said. “Had he stayed in South Carolina, he'd have ended up killing himself.”