South Carolina’s Senate Medical Affairs Committee approved a medical marijuana bill on Thursday, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.
“There are thousands of South Carolinians who are suffering from serious illness and they’ve already waited far too long,” said Janel Ralph, executive director of Compassionate South Carolina, whose eight-year-old daughter has a rare seizure disorder. “A large majority of voters want to see a compassionate medical cannabis law pass and lawmakers should remain focused on this issue. It isn’t going away. We hope the Senate will take up the measure for a floor vote without further delay, so that patients may finally have relief,” said Ralph.
Despite the progress made by the legislation in the Senate, advocates are concerned the bill will not move far enough through the legislature to get a floor vote in both chambers before the session ends. The House has declined to hear its own medical marijuana bill so far this year, and the deadline for it to advance is April 10.
Supporters of the bill are also upset that key members of the law enforcement community are lobbying against the bill, despite numerous safeguards and several amendments that addressed concerns. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel has repeatedly claimed that marijuana does not have medical value, in contrast to testimony from prominent medical professionals. Surprising many, he has also claimed he is unable to support legislation that might violate federal law, despite the fact that Congress and President Trump last week passed a spending bill that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
“It is presumptuous, irresponsible, and arrogant for law enforcement officials to take it upon themselves to determine what medical resources should be available for the citizens of South Carolina who are suffering and in need of relief,” said Jeff Moore, former executive director of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, whose adult son treats PTSD legally with medical cannabis in Michigan. “Law enforcement should enforce the laws of this state and adhere to the will of the people of South Carolina and not hide behind a dubious federal policy. My son is a combat veteran who shouldn’t have to be exiled and forced to live in another state to get the appropriate treatment that helps him.”
There are currently 29 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico, with effective medical marijuana laws on the books.
The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, introduced last year by Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy, would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to access medical cannabis if their doctors recommend it. The Department of Health and Environmental Control would regulate and license medical cannabis cultivation centers, processing facilities, dispensaries, and independent testing laboratories. The department would also issue registration cards to qualifying patients and their caregivers. Patients would not be able to smoke medical cannabis under the bill as amended by the committee. South Carolina would have one of the most carefully regulated programs in the country under this bill.
According to an October 2016 Winthrop Poll, 78% of South Carolina residents approve of making cannabis legal for medical purposes.