Medical marijuana bag

A bag of state-authorized medical marijuana in California. File

If anyone had predicted South Carolina might legalize medical marijuana a few years back, you would’ve sworn they were smoking something. But it could happen.

Last week, Beaufort Sen. Tom Davis introduced the Compassionate Care Act in the state Senate, and Charleston Rep. Peter McCoy is following suit in the House.

Davis is the perfect leader for this effort. In 2014, he led a successful campaign to legalize cannabidiol — a non-psychoactive pot oil extract — as a treatment for people with severe epilepsy.

Now, this might scare folks under the influence of “Reefer Madness” propaganda, but polls show a majority of South Carolinians support legal medical marijuana. And it’s about time.

Right now, 33 states and the District of Columbia allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients suffering from Parkinson’s, PTSD or glaucoma, as well as people enduring chemotherapy.

This isn’t a radical idea. The National Academy of Sciences has found conclusive evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment for “chronic pain in adults … chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms.” And it’s certainly less dangerous than opioids.

Davis has spent four years educating his colleagues, and this is a bipartisan effort — both Davis and McCoy are Republicans. So lawmakers predict this is the year the Legislature actually makes it legal to prescribe pot.

Assuming law enforcement and social conservatives don’t raise a stink again.

A conservative law

The Charleston County Republican Party recently passed a resolution supporting the Compassionate Care Act, which McCoy says is a good sign the issue has momentum and growing public support.

Of course, it wasn’t a unanimous vote. Some people still fear medical marijuana is a slippery slope toward legal recreational pot smoking, and one person laughably suggested this would encourage Democrats to move here. Which is just silly. The Democrats have already moved to Colorado.

Davis correctly points out there is no way South Carolina would ever completely green-light ganja, and his bill makes darn sure of it. It includes so many regulations and restrictions that the legislation is longer and more complex than the contract to buy a new car. That was by design. He has tried to address every concern that has come up in the past four years.

“I put in a lot of safeguards that other states don’t have because South Carolina is more socially conservative,” Davis says. “This isn’t a California or Colorado bill.”

He’s right.

The Compassionate Care Act would even prohibit sparking up or smoking a bowl. Patients would have to use pot as an oil or salve, or ingest it. That’s because law enforcement didn’t like the idea of people sitting around burning one, no matter what the reason.

The bill also establishes criminal penalties of five years in prison for anyone caught using medical marijuana without a prescription.

This is a no-brainer, and Davis says the idea ought to appeal to Republicans. It’s simply about keeping the government out of people’s lives, allowing doctors to prescribe the treatment that’s best for their patients.

Exactly. This idea is libertarian, not libertine.

Helpful, not harmful

According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, about 77 South Carolinians are diagnosed with some form of cancer every day.

Most of these people are forced to endure invasive chemotherapy, which can leave them nauseated, tired, anemic and suffering from nerve damage. And one study after another shows that marijuana helps relieve those symptoms.

That’s why state Rep. Lin Bennett, an ardent conservative, has supported efforts to legalize medical marijuana for years.

“It’s not a miracle drug, but it is a helpful drug,” Bennett says. And, she notes, marijuana is a natural substance that grows from the earth — unlike most prescribed painkillers, which are chemical compounds made in labs and are often addictive and destructive.

She’s absolutely correct.

This is a common-sense solution, and the only way it gets derailed is if the ill-informed push tired stereotypes.

So, let’s clear a few things up. This is about medicine, not morality. There aren’t going to be pot dispensaries on every corner. And marijuana is not a gateway drug to anything. Except maybe Doritos.

The Legislature has an opportunity here to do something that will make peoples’ lives better, and ease their suffering without causing harm to other folks.

And anyone who tries to stop them is the real dope.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.