Debate surrounding a proposal to legalize medical cannabis will continue this week in the South Carolina legislature, with votes on changes to the bill reportedly coming as early as Tuesday.
Members of the state Senate began debate last week on legislation introduced by Republican Senator Tom Davis, known as the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act.”
Under the bill offered up by Davis, patients with at least one of a number of qualifying conditions could received cannabis treatment, including: cancer, multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease or disorder (including epilepsy), sickle cell disease, glaucoma, PTSD, autism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cachexia, a condition causing a person to be home-bound that includes severe or persistent nausea, terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year, a chronic medical condition causing severe and persistent muscle spasms or a chronic medical condition for which an opioid is or could be prescribed based on accepted standards of care.
But there are restrictions on how the cannabis treatment may be administered, with eligible patients unable to legally smoke marijuana. Instead, they would use alternative methods, such as oils, vaporizers and patches.
According to the Associated Press, “there will be more debate when the Senate meets” on Tuesday, and “there may be votes on amendments to change the bill.”
The state Senate began debate on Davis’s bill last Wednesday and Thursday, but the Associated Press said that lawmakers adjourned before holding a vote.
However, the debate itself was historic. Davis has been pushing to legalize medical marijuana in the Palmetto State since 2015. Last week marked the first time in the GOP lawmaker’s seven-year effort that one of his proposals was actually brought to a debate on the Senate floor.
“If you pound at the door long enough. If you make your case. If the public is asking for something, the state Senate owes a debate,” Davis told The Post and Courier newspaper earlier this month. “The people of South Carolina deserve to know where their elected officials stand on this issue.”
The Post and Courier said that Davis has said that his bill would establish “the most conservative medical marijuana program in the country as a result of continued opposition from law enforcement, most notably State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, who’s highly respected in the Statehouse.”
The Associated Press said that Davis “made his bill conservative based on concern from law enforcement and others.”
But the legislation’s prospects will still face headwinds from other lawmakers and interest groups in the state.
Groups like the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association are opposed to the proposal, for example.
“If marijuana is medicine, it should be regulated as every other medicine is regulated. We are aware of no other medication that has to be approved by the General Assembly,” said Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association. “This (bill) includes a lot of other things—including vaping, including edibles. This is not going to your local pharmacy—it’s going to a dispensary. This is not being treated like every other medicine is.”
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel voiced similar objections, telling local television station WYFF4: “My position on medical marijuana is well known and unchanged. Until it is approved by the FDA, prescribed by a physician and dispensed by a pharmacist I remain opposed to it. Doctors cannot legally prescribe it and pharmacists cannot legally dispense it.”
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, has expressed opposition to recreational pot, but said last summer that he needs “more information” on medical cannabis.
“I know there’s a lot of suffering that is—apparently is—treatable or helped with what they call medical marijuana,” McMaster said at the time. “I think we need to be very careful and use common sense and see what experience has produced in other states before we move too quickly.”