COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina took a step closer Thursday to becoming the latest state to allow the legalization of marijuana for treatment of critically ill patients, although the bill’s sponsor acknowledged it’s unlikely to become law this year.
On an 8-6 vote, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee approved a measure that would allow the use of medical marijuana to treat some critically ill patients. It now goes to the full Senate, but bill sponsor Sen. Tom Davis said he knows it won’t get ultimate approval this legislative year, which wraps up in May.
A subcommittee previously held hours of testimony over the bill, which has strong opposition from law enforcement leaders. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, who attended Thursday’s hearing, previously testified about his concerns that legalizing marijuana in any form could create a “black market” for resale and potential abuse. Sen. Kevin Johnson, a Democrat from Manning who voted against the bill, said he’d been contacted by many who support it but primarily out of the hope it would be a gateway to recreational legalization of the drug.
Currently, 29 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico allow some type of medical cannabis program. On Thursday, Sen. Danny Verdin, who chaired that subcommittee, said he understood reservations about the measure but was tired of South Carolina’s reluctance to move on cultural issues like this one, putting it out of line with the majority of other states.
“I want South Carolina to be at the table and be in the conversation as it relates to cultural change,” the Laurens Republican said. “The longer that conservative states like South Carolina sit on the sidelines and wait on the issue to come to us, the less leverage and the less voice we have in the matter.”
If South Carolina’s measure becomes law, it would be among the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country. The version of the bill approved Thursday would explicitly make it illegal to smoke medical marijuana and lays out a number of requirements for prescribing physicians and operators of medical cannabis dispensaries.
Davis has proposed the legalization of medical marijuana for several years, speaking multiple times on the floor of the Senate about personal stories he’s heard from both adults and children suffering from debilitating disorders and pain some say could be treated with marijuana.
In 2014, lawmakers passed a very narrow law allowing patients with severe epilepsy, or their caregivers, to legally possess cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive oil derived from marijuana.
Similar medical marijuana legislation died in committee in previous sessions, but the Beaufort Republican and other supporters were encouraged by polling showing that nearly 80 percent of South Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medical use.
“There’s no question there are medical benefits to cannabis,” Davis said. “Facts are facts.”