COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) — If lawmakers decide to make South Carolina the 38th state to legalize medical marijuana, they’ll have to do it soon if they want that to happen this year.
The current legislative session ends next month for the state General Assembly, and although the state Senate passed S.150, the SC Compassionate Care Act, in February, it still needs approval by the House of Representatives and the governor’s signature to become law, unless both houses choose to override a veto by the governor.
Gov. Henry McMaster has not indicated whether he would support medical marijuana legislation.
As the bill moves through the House, it now sits on the Medical, Military, Public, and Municipal Affairs, or 3-M, committee, and on Monday, members of that committee heard six hours of public testimony on the bill. law as they consider moving it forward.
It was an unusual move, as public comment is usually limited to the subcommittee level and lawmakers are not normally at the State House on Mondays. But 3-M President Leon Howard, D-Richland, said he wanted to make sure all members had the opportunity to hear voter input and ask questions before deciding how to vote.
Most of those who spoke at Monday’s meeting urged committee members to support the bill, including parents of children with life-threatening illnesses, who said the drug was their best, and sometimes, the only treatment option.
“She’s not tall. She is not altered. She’s alive,” Jill Swing described her daughter, Mary Louise, who she says lives with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
Kathy Roberson said her great-nephew, for whom she is the legal guardian, also lives with epilepsy, but has not had seizures or medication for four and a half years.
“He’s alive today because of cannabis,” Roberson said.
Several veterans told the panel that medical marijuana was a safer and more effective treatment than the opioids they are typically prescribed through the VA for the lasting injuries and PTSD they suffer during and after their service.
“It was not a gateway drug. In fact, for me and so many others, including the Marines I brought home, it was an exit drug from the addictive pharmaceuticals that were prescribed to us,” said Gary Hess of the Alliance of veterans for holistic alternatives, adding medical marijuana. users are forced to obtain the drug from states where it is still illegal through underground markets, where the drug may not be safe and is certainly unregulated.
This bill would not allow marijuana to be smoked, and a person would have to have one of 12 eligible medical conditions to get a prescription, with in-person approval from their doctor.
Its sponsor, Republican Senator Tom Davis of Beaufort County, called it the most conservative medical cannabis legislation in the country.
“I want people to look at the South Carolina law and say, ‘If you want a law that helps patients and empowers doctors but doesn’t go down the slope to recreation, this is your bill'” , Davis told his House counterparts on Monday. .
However, some opponents of the bill have said they fear this legislation will open the door for South Carolina to do just that, allowing for more legalization and use on the road.
“Every state that has recreational marijuana always starts with medical marijuana. We also know and understand here that there is no question that marijuana is the gateway drug,” said Pastor Mike Hamlet, First Baptist North Spartanburg.
Others believe the FDA should first approve the drug for use before it is licensed in South Carolina, including members of the state’s law enforcement community.
“You are being asked to legislatively approve medicine. Ever since this debate began, law enforcement has always said that if marijuana was a medicine, it should be regulated like any other medicine,” said Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.
While Monday’s meeting was reserved for public comment, Howard said the 3-M committee would meet again on Thursday to discuss the bill, propose amendments and possibly vote to send it to the House for debate.
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