Lawmakers should back medical marijuana bill

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

Nearly half of the states have approved the medical use of marijuana, as prescribed by a physician, recognizing its therapeutic value for patients with long term pain from cancer, seizures, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and other ailments.

Not South Carolina, though. Not yet.

Members of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Thursday expressed their sympathy for those South Carolinians who could benefit from having marijuana medically prescribed for pain or nausea.

Then they voted to kill the bill, after first rejecting an amendment that would have resolved many of the issues raised by those who had opposed the bill, including law enforcement officials.

The amendment would have tightened licensing and oversight for cultivation, distribution and sales.

Committee chairman Harvey Peeler’s explanation?

“This bill would put us one step closer to Colorado.”

No, it wouldn’t.

Colorado is one of four states, plus Washington, D.C., that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. In each case that was done as the result of a voter initiative or referendum.

South Carolina voters don’t have the option of voter initiative, and even if they did, the notion that such an ill-advised proposal would be approved by the largely conservative voters of this state is nothing short of ludicrous.

What the medical marijuana bill would do is put South Carolina a step closer to the majority view that those who are ill should have broad medical options available for their relief.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have approved the use of medical marijuana. Thirteen states have approved the use of cannabidiol, a marijuana derivative. South Carolina joined those states allowing limited use of cannabidiol in 2014.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, pointed out that a Winthrop University poll late last year that showed 70 percent of likely voters in the Feb. 20 S.C. GOP presidential primary endorsed legal use of marijuana for medical purposes.

More than 80 percent of S.C. Democrats supported medical marijuana in a ballot question in 2014.

Sen. Davis said: “It’s increasingly obvious that it contains qualities that provide therapeutic benefit and give real relief. Doctors can provide opiates to patients, but this is something much more benign and beneficial than the opioids that are often prescribed.”

Sen. Davis pointed out that his bill was written after extensive hearings and discussions with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. He also said that law enforcement officials who oppose the bill have refused to meet with him to discuss it.

Nevertheless, Sen. Davis said he would continue his efforts to pass the bill. Meanwhile, there is a House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, that should get more favorable consideration.

Lawmakers should recognize that support of medical marijuana isn’t a “soft on drugs” position. Rather it recognizes that marijuana has a proven medical value in certain instances.

The option should be available in South Carolina, particularly for those with chronic illnesses accompanied by pain that responds favorably to its use.