May 18, 2022

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Public backs medical marijuana, South Carolina polls suggest. Is that enough to convince lawmakers? | National

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COLUMBIA, SC – When South Carolina Senator Tom Davis first proposed expanding access to marijuana to people with debilitating health problems about seven years ago, opponents in the State House were in favor of the “marijuana is not medicine” sticker wore, not uncommon.

Today, said the Beaufort Republican, you just don’t see it – at least not so prominently.

“The debate about whether there are any medical benefits has been settled,” Davis told The State in an interview.

Next year, South Carolina lawmakers will debate and potentially vote to join nearly 40 states legalizing some type of medical marijuana. In this case, for use in oils and creams prescribed by licensed doctors for people with some of the most serious and debilitating diseases and health problems.

It would be a major political change for the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which only passed a similar law in 2014 under the then administration. Nikki Haley signed Davis’s law allowing people with severe epilepsy to prescribe cannabidiol.

It would also be in line with general public support.

Most of the state’s 46 senators told The State last week that they expect Davis’ bill – p. 150 – to be the top priority on the chamber’s calendar next year, giving him a special, first-to-date status Debate stands. Some of these senators told the newspaper they were confident the Senate would pass the bill and send it to the House of Representatives – years after Davis first proposed legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

The state’s poll of South Carolina’s 46 senators found a majority, if not all, of the senators willing to lead the debate.

However, in addition to the bill’s 16 sponsors, three said they support it or tend to vote for it. Eleven said they were still studying the bill or hadn’t decided yet, while some of them recognized the public support and health benefits but wanted to see changes.

Five said they would likely vote against and one declined to comment. Ten senators could not be reached on time.

“When he (Davis) first introduced it years ago, I wasn’t sure what to think of it,” said Pastor and State Senator Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, who said he had gone from being anxious to being “very supportive.” .

He added, “I hope this is the year we can postpone it. I think he built an impressive bipartisan support group. “

But others, praising all of Davis’ years of work, said they had serious reservations about opposition from the state’s top law enforcement officer, the South Carolina Medical Association, and the indecision of the federal government to end the ban on marijuana.

“I am not in favor of federal law being one thing and state law the other. I just don’t want to support anything that I know is against federal law, ”said Senator Billy Garrett, R-McCormick, of the first state in the state. “I think we’re a little hasty.”

This month the conversation about legalization was rekindled by hopeful Democratic Governor Joe Cunningham when he tabled a political proposal in support of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. He called it a “game changer,” and said it could help generate new revenue for the state to repair roads and schools, and expand Medicaid, to name a few.

Its main antagonist, Senator Mia McLeod – a Richland County Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the Davis Bill – offered her own support for legalization, arguing, “The public perception of marijuana has changed, and so must it Change laws governing its use. ”

Meanwhile, Republican Governor Henry McMaster, who does not yet have a high-profile main challenger, has not directly said where he stands or whether he would veto the law, which gives supporters hope.

“There are a lot of ailments that medical marijuana can treat,” McMaster told reporters last month. “I think we have to be very careful and use common sense.”

However, while McMaster reiterated Thursday that it can provide “great relief” to people in pain, he told reporters, “but until we are sure that it is safe and that it meets law enforcement standards, we still have work to do, and it does . “Fail this test.”

A public push tied to a changing legislature could ultimately steer the train, proponents say.

Across all political parties, South Carolinians are more inclined to support marijuana for medical purposes, polls show.

In 2014, a Winthrop University poll found that 72% of South Carolinians support medical marijuana legalization. Two years later, that support was higher – 78%, or four in five residents, Winthrop found.

Support hasn’t changed much since then.

In February, Republican firm Starboard Communications found that 72% of likely general election voters are in favor of a doctor prescribing medical marijuana to people with serious medical problems.

It’s not so much that public perception has changed, said political strategist Walt Whetsell, who heads Starboard. More likely, he said, there has been increased support within the legislature, which is faced with anecdotal evidence of medical benefits year after year.

“We’ve been doing surveys on this for four to five years and the numbers are pretty consistent,” Whetsell said.

Today, 37 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes despite a federal ban.

And while the South Carolina legislature won’t consider legalizing adult recreational cannabis anytime soon, 18 states and Washington, DC have so far.

All of this came against the backdrop of a serious opioid epidemic that is consuming the country, lawmakers said. That includes South Carolina, where 1,730 people died of overdose last year – an increase of nearly 52%.

For senators opposed to Davis’ proposal, a number of factors exist, including the fact that doing so can lead to recreational activities being legalized.

Law enforcement agencies, particularly Mark Keel, the head of the state law enforcement division, oppose it, they note. However, Keel’s opposition to open carrying with a weapons law did not prevent lawmakers from passing the weapons ordinance this year.

“Legalizing marijuana in all respects is a public safety concern, and I am not aware of any other bill that has the potential to negatively impact South Carolina as we know it today,” Keel said through a spokesman.

Second, Democratic and Republican senators said the state was worried about circumventing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Senators also want clear and strict guard rails, whether it’s a pharmacy or a breeder who is licensed to grow.

The Davis bill restricts the medical conditions that can be allowed, and it limits how many licensed growers can grow in the state, and it limits the number of processing, transportation, testing, and dispensing facilities that can be opened.

“I just think the time has come” to end medical marijuana, said Senate finance committee chair Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. “I wish we wouldn’t do this at the state level. It should be a federal issue, but it isn’t. “

South Carolina voters won’t elect their next governor until November 2022.

But lawmakers are already concerned that Cunningham’s support for legalizing recreational marijuana could end the debate.

“Unfortunately, marijuana was introduced in a conversation that Senator Davis cleverly took us away from,” said Senator Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, a co-sponsor of Davis’s bill.

New Senator Josh Kimbrell, R-Spartanburg, said knowing where the governor stands, more specifically, would veto – an action that may not have the votes to overturn – could help shape the debate as well to alleviate the concern.

“Cunningham threw a grenade,” said Kimbrell, undecided.

Should the Senate pass the bill and send it to the 124-strong house, it was not immediately clear how the votes would be there.

But for State Representative Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, who filed a similar bill – H. 3361 – the problem is personal: his brother died of cancer but used marijuana to relieve his pain. He said he was confident that the house will go through next year.

“This isn’t anything shoddy,” said Herbkersman, who plans to take lawmakers on a trip to the state of Mississippi to see their medical marijuana operation. “This is real pharmacy.”

State Senator Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland added that the days should be over when marijuana was simply viewed as a “gateway drug”.

“If marijuana was a gateway drug,” he said, “I would have been down the drain about 30 years ago.”

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(Reporter Joseph Bustos contributed to this report.)

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