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SC police, doctors fighting medical marijuana; AG calls it US's 'most dangerous drug'

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COLUMBIA — Flanked by lawmakers, law enforcement officials and doctors in white lab coats, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson called marijuana "the most dangerous drug" in America while denouncing legislation Wednesday that would allow patients to obtain it with a doctor's prescription. 

Various speakers, which included State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel and leaders from the S.C. Medical Association, suggested the use of medical marijuana would cause a litany of problems in South Carolina: addiction, increased traffic accidents and — without specifically citing any peer-reviewed research — an increase in the number of overdose deaths. 

While standing in the center of the Statehouse lobby, Wilson rattled off slang describing the high from marijuana.

"They use words like stoned, high, wasted, baked, fried, cooked, chonged, cheeched, dope-faced, blazed, blitzed, blunted, blasted, danked, stupid, wrecked — and that's only half the words they use," Wilson said. "Are these consistent with something that describes a medicine?" 

Wilson classified marijuana as the most dangerous drug because he said it was "the most misunderstood drug." 

Dr. March Seabrook, the S.C. Medical Association president, focused his opposition on the lack of medical and regulatory oversight of marijuana. The trade group for doctors, he said, supports more research on marijuana and the use of cannabis oil for childhood seizures, a treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year. 

After the news conference, the Medical Association said it disagreed with Wilson's assessment that marijuana is "the most dangerous drug" in the country. Still, Seabrook argued the new legislation "will not improve the health of South Carolina.” 

Medical marijuana supporters at the Statehouse said Wilson's comments and the overall tone at the news conference played on the public's fears. 

"This is just hysteria," said state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia Democrat and former prosecutor.

Nationwide, 33 states have set up regulations to allow for the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. So far this year, 15 S.C. lawmakers, including many of Charleston County's legislative delegation, sponsored a bill to add South Carolina to that growing list. 

The newly proposed legislation would allow patients to obtain up to two ounces of marijuana every two weeks — an amount that Wilson said is too much for a patient to use in that time. 

State Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican who has championed a medical marijuana bill for several years, said he's willing to work with Wilson and law enforcement officials to alleviate their concerns about the legislation. Davis said he's willing to reconsider the amount of marijuana that can be prescribed to people. 

He criticized Wednesday's news conference as being divorced from reality. 

"I heard so many absurd statements today that I lost room writing down on here," Davis said, holding up a legal pad. "It's like we traveled in a time warp back to the 1950s." 

He also took a direct shot at the Medical Association for citing dangers with marijuana when many of them have prescribed opioid painkillers to their patients. Davis pointed out the bill makes diverting medical marijuana for recreational use a felony. 

He tried to refocus the conversation on the people who might benefit from the law including those suffering from chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or appetite loss from chemotherapy.  

Law enforcement leaders are unmoved. Steve Mueller, the Cherokee County Sheriff and president of the South Carolina Sheriff's Association, pleaded for people not to let supporters of medical marijuana "pull at your heart." 

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Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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