Proposed bill could introduce medical cannabis to South Carolina
Sitting in a Mount Pleasant bookstore cafe, Jill Swing sipped tea and looked down at the novel she was preparing to purchase. Speaking as the founder of medical cannabis advocacy group Compassionate Care Alliance, Swing described the relentless epilepsy and cerebral palsy that her daughter had to deal with every day.
“Her condition was very severe and almost constant,” said Swing, a Charleston resident. “We had just run out of other options from her neurologist.”
In 2013, a year before the substance was made legal, Swing was forced to illegally buy CBD (Cannabidiol) oil, knowing that it could help her child.
“We were sold things that—we didn’t even know if they were fit for human consumption, let alone whether they were to help our children,” she continued. “But, we were desperate and we were willing to try anything because the pharmaceutical drugs were not helping and in a lot of cases made things worse.”
For patients that require a stronger THC (main active ingredient of cannabis) content than CBD provides, Swing believes medical marijuana is the only feasible option to help them get through their sickness. In the hopes of benefiting people with debilitating chronic conditions, like Swing’s daughter, a new South Carolina Senate and House bill, titled the Compassionate Care Act, would introduce medical cannabis to the Palmetto State if approved.
The bill is relatively strict with its list of ailments that would qualify a patient for medical marijuana. Some of the conditions named are cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, or terminal illnesses that give a patient less than one year to live.
House Representative Nancy Mace of Daniel Island is a co-sponsor for the bill, claiming that it will catch South Carolina up with the other states in the country that have already approved medical cannabis usage.
“This bill is probably the most conservative medical cannabis bill in the country, right now,” she described. “Thirty-three other states are ahead of South Carolina and have already passed their version of medical marijuana. In this case, I feel like we’re behind in some respects, compared to other states.”
The Compassionate Care Act only addresses non-smokable cannabis.
“We’re not talking about being able to acquire marijuana to smoke in a joint or a bong or a vape, or anything of that nature,” said Mace. “We’re talking about strictly a delivery method that would be in a capsule or an oil or other edible format for medical purposes only.”
The state representative believes that this will curb the possibility for abuse.
Senator Larry Grooms, whose district also includes Daniel Island, showed less enthusiasm for the bill.
“I’m a little disappointed that the sponsors of this bill want to treat medical marijuana differently than every other drug that’s available,” he stated. “In my opinion, the drugs that should be prescribed by a physician ought to be those that have been approved by the FDA.”
Grooms did signal that he would reserve judgement for after the discussions from medical committees.
“I do look forward to hearing the debate,” he said. “I will try to keep an open mind to this, but still, I would rather that medical marijuana make its way to the market place just as every other drug has made its way to the marketplace.”
Pharmacist and Daniel Island resident Julie Lawrence, speaking on behalf of drug prevention advocates The Edge, stated that her group is opposed to the bill.
“The legalization would increase the availability of the product,” said Lawrence. “It also increases the acceptability of its use, which we think is a negative.”
Swing trusts that the bill is reflective of South Carolina values and will appeal to the right-wing, once all is said and done.
“I think it’s a bill that even the most conservative lawmakers should be able to latch on to, should be able to support, and should be able to see very clearly that there is a solid line that’s been drawn between medical use of cannabis and recreational use,” she said.
If successful, the bill will create a Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, comprised of doctors, medical researchers, and SLED officials to decide if other medical conditions not named in the bill could benefit from medical marijuana. In some other states that have allowed cannabis for medicinal purposes, new ailments are required to go through the state legislature to be codified in law. The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board would meet every six months and be a way to expedite the process.
In a survey conducted by The Daniel Island News last week, readers vastly supported the legalization of medical marijuana. Out of 147 respondents, 89 percent said that cannabis should be legal for medical use.
“If it will help comfort the people in need they should be allowed to have some quality of life,” said one respondent.
“It could be better than chemical drugs,” another offered.
One opposer to medical marijuana showed concern for the after-effects that the drug could have.
“This would open the door to general approval of recreational marijuana sales in the entire state,” they said.
These results are similar to a poll conducted by Benchmark Research and featured in The State newspaper that shows 72 percent out of 400 South Carolinians are in favor of the legalization of medical cannabis.
The popularity of medical marijuana has slowly grown in the United States, ever since California became the first state to legalize the substance for medical purposes in 1996. The District of Columbia and 33 states have implemented marijuana usage in medical practices in the past 23 years.
As far as South Carolina is concerned, there have been several attempts to legalize medical cannabis in the past five years.
In 2014, the Palmetto State legalized CBD oil, permitting that the substance contains less than one percent of THC. One year later, the Senate Medical Affairs committee approved a bill that would create a medical marijuana program. This was shot down in 2016.
In the 2017-2018 State legislature session, the Compassionate Care Act’s predecessor, sharing the same name, was brought forth and saw bipartisan support, although it was not approved. Mace believes that the latest incarnation of the Compassionate Care Act has a good chance at success because of its more restrictive nature.