South Carolinians still left waiting after push to legalize medical marijuana falls short in 2022

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Published: May. 19, 2022 at 7:48 PM EDT|Updated: May. 19, 2022 at 9:36 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Despite the abrupt death of the bill to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina this year, supporters and advocates say their hope for the legislation is still alive.

The “SC Compassionate Care Act,” S.150, advanced further this year than it ever had before, passing the state Senate and making it all the way to the House of Representatives floor for debate, where it was one key step away from reaching the governor’s desk.

But before that debate really got underway in the House, Rep. John McCravy, R- Greenwood, who had put up around 1,000 amendments in an attempt to stall the bill, raised a question about its constitutionality.

The bill would have taxed the sale of medical marijuana in South Carolina. The state constitution requires bills that create a new tax must originate in the House, but S.150 was a Senate bill. House Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope, R – York, ruled the bill was unconstitutional because of this and could not be further debated, killing it. An attempt to appeal Pope’s decision was voted down.

Sen. Tom Davis, R – Beaufort, who has been pushing for this legislation for years, disagreed with Pope’s ruling, arguing the bill’s revenue-raising component was ancillary to its primary purpose, to establish a medical cannabis program in the state.

A Hail Mary attempt to resurrect the bill during the final week of the legislative session also fell short.

“There’s frustration,” Davis told reporters shortly after the House ruling on May 4. “I mean, look, seven years’ worth of work. Seven years’ worth of public testimony, seven years’ worth of doctors and caregivers and moms and people coming and testifying and talking about how this could make a material difference in their lives.”

Among those moms who have been testifying is Charleston’s Jill Swing, the founder of the SC Compassionate Care Alliance, which advocates for the legalization of medical cannabis in the state.

Swing has become a regular at public hearings for the legislation, and she was the person who first convinced Davis several years ago to champion it in the General Assembly.

“I would imagine hundreds of hours I’ve spent at our State House, driving back and forth two hours,” she said.

But Swing said all those drives are worth it if it helps to legalize what she said is an effective treatment for her daughter, Mary Louise, who has severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

“Around 2013, doctors had gotten to the point where there weren’t any viable treatment options for her to help control her seizures, and her seizures were severe. She was having 800-1,000 seizures a day,” Swing said.

Swing said she had resorted to underground markets to buy cannabidiol, or CBD, products, which do not contain THC, the compound in marijuana that produces a high, before CBD was legalized in South Carolina to treat Mary Louise.

Then in 2016, they visited Maine to access medical cannabis under a doctor’s care and guidance.

“She was a different child,” Swing said, explaining Mary Louise experienced fewer seizures and reduced seizure-causing light sensitivity, could stand on her own, and was able to say more words. “But unfortunately, it’s not legal here, so back home in South Carolina, I can’t give her something I know helps her.”

Davis’ bill, which he claimed was the most conservative medical cannabis legislation in the country, included epilepsy among the 12 medical conditions for which non-smokable medical cannabis could have been prescribed, with in-person approval from a doctor required.

Swing said she was encouraged to see years of work start to pay off this year, as the bill advanced into uncharted territory for South Carolina.

But she called the procedural ruling that killed it on the House floor, preventing South Carolina from becoming the 38th state to legalize medical marijuana, frustrating.

“It impacts a lot of people’s lives, and it’s really time that I think our lawmakers look in the mirror and decide if they’re going to be public servants or if they’re going to serve their own will and their own desire because I think it was an injustice, and unfortunately, patients are going to have to wait,” Swing said.

They will have to wait until January before the bill can be reintroduced, and Davis has said he plans to try to pass it once again next year.

Because a new, two-year legislative session starts in 2023, the bill would need to move through more public hearings, advance out of committees, and again pass in the Senate if it does become law.

But Swing said she’s not giving up.

“I get tired, I get fatigued, I get frustrated, but I am constantly reminded why I’m doing this, and it’s for Mary Louise,” she said. “She always inspires me. She gives me strength, and she’s what keeps me going on this fight.”

Law enforcement officials are among those who have expressed concerns about this bill.

SLED Chief Mark Keel has maintained his opposition, saying he believes marijuana first needs to be approved by the FDA.

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