Medical Marijuana

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2018, file photo, an employee at a medical marijuana cultivator works on topping a plant in Eastlake, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)

South Carolina residents suffering from chronic pain, cancer-related wasting and nausea, glaucoma and dozens of other medical conditions should have legal access to medical marijuana regardless of what the state’s top law enforcement officials and doctors said Wednesday in an unusual news conference at the Statehouse.

But South Carolina is still at odds with 33 states where doctors can prescribe marijuana to their patients. This despite a recent poll showing 72 percent of South Carolinians supported legalization of medical marijuana.

A nonbinding referendum question on the issue as part of the state’s Democratic primary election ballot in 2018 also passed with an overwhelming 82 percent of the vote. Two Republican lawmakers are leading the charge this year in the Senate and the House.

Several leaders in the South Carolina medical community have warned that there’s not enough research on the effectiveness of marijuana as a medicine for doctors to ethically prescribe it to patients.

This is a rather disingenuous argument, however. Multiple studies and countless examples of anecdotal evidence have shown marijuana to be an effective treatment for a variety of conditions, including many that are difficult to manage with more traditional pharmaceuticals.

The fact that the federal Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved cannabis for medical use is largely a reflection of the federal prohibition on the drug. Federal lawmakers should consider relaxing the drug’s legal classification to allow more and better research.

While the potential negative health impacts of medicinal marijuana use are undoubtedly worth thoroughly studying, there’s little evidence so far to suggest that possible drawbacks outweigh the demonstrated benefits for the patients who most stand to benefit.

Besides, no medical marijuana law would require doctors to prescribe it to patients. It would simply offer them the option to do so, and only under strictly regulated circumstances — something this newspaper previously has backed, arguing that marijuana would offer an effective and safer alternative to traditional prescriptions drugs.

It’s also disingenuous to suggest that legalizing medicinal cannabis would somehow cause an explosion of crime in South Carolina, especially violent crime. Years of data from other states show no notable correlation between crime rates before and after medical marijuana legalization, although less-extensive data on recreational legalization are somewhat more mixed.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s assertion on Wednesday that marijuana is “the most dangerous drug” in the country is preposterous by any conceivable measure, as the families and friends of the state’s more than 700 opioid-related fatal overdose victims in 2017 can surely attest.

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In fact, it’s worth noting that marijuana shows promise as an alternative to addictive and potentially deadly painkillers.

Of course, getting the legislative details right is tricky business, and there’s no doubt Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, faces an uphill battle with his medical marijuana bill. Those wary about pot’s medicinal prospects, however, should be heartened that Mr. Davis’ Compassionate Care Act is among the strictest and most comprehensive such bills ever conceived. Fellow Republican Peter McCoy of Charleston, a former prosecutor, is following suit in the House.

It’s also worth noting that Mr. Davis’ medical marijuana legislation has substantial bipartisan support in the Legislature, where he led the fight in 2014 to legalize cannabidiol for treatment of severe epilepsy.

South Carolinians suffering from painful or debilitating chronic conditions stand to benefit from the legalization of medical marijuana. It’s senseless and cruel to deny them practical, legal, safe access to it.

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