SC House panel takes in hours of public testimony on medical marijuana bill as it considers legislation

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Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 7:42 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - If lawmakers decide to make South Carolina the 38th state to legalize medical marijuana, they will have to do it soon if they want it to happen this year.

The current legislative session ends next month for the state’s General Assembly, and while the state Senate passed S.150, the SC Compassionate Care Act, in February, it still needs approval from the House of Representatives and the governor’s signature to become law, unless both chambers opt to override a gubernatorial veto.

Gov. Henry McMaster has not indicated if he would support medical marijuana legislation.

As the bill works its way through the House, it now sits with 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 legislation as they consider advancing it.

That was an unusual move, as public comment is typically limited to the subcommittee level, and lawmakers normally aren’t at the State House on Mondays. But 3-M Chair Leon Howard, D – Richland, said he wanted to ensure all members had the chance to hear constituents’ input and ask questions before they decide how to vote.

Most of the people who spoke at Monday’s meeting urged committee members to support the bill, including parents of children with incurable diseases, who said this drug is their best, and sometimes, only option for treatment.

“She is not high. She is not impaired. She is alive,” Jill Swing described her daughter, Mary Louise, who she said lives with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

Kathy Roberson said her great-nephew, for whom she serves as legal guardian, also lives with epilepsy but has been seizure-free and off pharmaceutical drugs for the last four-and-a-half years.

“He’s alive today because of cannabis,” Roberson said.

Multiple 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 lasting injuries and PTSD they suffer during and after their services.

“It was not a gateway drug. In fact, for me and for so many others, including the Marines I brought into my own home, it was an exit drug from the addictive pharmaceuticals that were prescribed to us,” Gary Hess of Veterans Alliance for Holistic Alternatives said, adding medical marijuana users are forced to obtain the drug in states where it is still illegal through underground markets, where the drug may not be safe and certainly isn’t regulated.

This bill would not allow for smokable marijuana, and a person would need to have one of 12 qualifying medical conditions to get a prescription, with in-person approval from their doctor.

Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort County, has called it the most conservative medical cannabis legislation in the country.

“I want people to look at South Carolina’s law and say, ‘If you want a law that helps patients and empowers doctors but doesn’t go down the slope to recreational, this is your bill,’” Davis testified to his House counterparts Monday.

However, some opponents of the bill said they feared this legislation would open the door for South Carolina to do just that, allowing for more legalization and use down the road.

“Every state that has recreational marijuana always begins with medical marijuana. We also know and understand here that there is no question that marijuana is the gateway drug,” First Baptist North Spartanburg Pastor Mike Hamlet said.

Others believe the FDA should first approve the drug’s use before it is allowed in South Carolina, including members of the state’s law enforcement community.

“You are being asked to legislatively approve medicine. From the beginning of this debate, law enforcement has consistently said if marijuana is medicine, it should be regulated like every other medicine,” South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jarrod Bruder said.

While Monday’s meeting was reserved for public comment, Howard said the 3-M Committee will reconvene Thursday to discuss the bill, propose amendments, and potentially vote to send it to the House floor for debate.

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