COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina senator says a bill aiming to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana will not move forward until lawmakers address concerns of stakeholders.
Members of the Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee met Wednesday to discuss proposed legislation which would allow cannabis use for terminal, debilitating medical conditions such as cancer or chronic diseases that could be treated with opioids. It would allow patients to purchase up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana or its equivalent every two weeks, if prescribed by a doctor.
Lawmakers plan to amend the bill and hold it in committee until they have several more meetings to hear testimony from supporters of the bill and the medical community. They also want to hear from law enforcement officials who are hesitant to support legislation allowing marijuana for any use.
Subcommittee chairman Tom Davis of Beaufort said he heard directly from stakeholders and wants to implement their suggestions including changing the language that would make it explicitly clear that smoking cannabis would not be covered under the legislation.
"The reason why we've prohibited it here is again to underscore that this bill is a medical bill, and the optics of this matter," Davis said. "It is very important that this bill not only in substance but that in appearance is more like medicine."
The Republican lawmaker tasked committee lawmakers to focus their efforts on bill specifics, including investigating additional medical conditions that would qualify under the legislation and the financial implications of including a 6 percent sales tax at the point of sale.
"I don't want this bill going to the full medical committee until we addressed every concern from the stakeholders," Davis said. "I would like this document proactively put out there. I want this to be something where members of the community feel like they will be heard."
Executive Director of the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association Jarrod Bruder said while he welcomes the attempt by lawmakers to actively seek input from members of law enforcement, Bruder said their concerns lie within the details or lack thereof in the current version of the bill.
"The devil is just always in the details and having to get into these bills and dissect and figure out what exactly it does," Bruder said. "I think if we find the unintended consequences in this stage instead of after it passes, it is going to be beneficial."
Marygrace Hollingsworth said she lives in constant pain as a result of her neuropathy diagnosis, and chooses not to be on pharmaceuticals because of the potential side effects. There are days I can barely walk and getting out of the bed at night, I have horrible pain, the mother of three said. Hollingsworth said that after visiting the Mayo Clinic and numerous testing, she is at the point of trying to manage the pain through physical therapy.
"I feel like people need to have a choice," Hollingsworth said. "It's just a quality of life issue and the pain, and some people choose to live with the pain and some people choose to do the pharmaceuticals."
Those still hesitant to back legalizing marijuana harken back to it being illegal under federal law and not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has the legal authority over legal prescription medication.
"We have compassion for the people that are suffering, but to do that through what is still going to be federally illegal is something that is concerning," Bruder said.
Lawmakers are scheduled to hold hearings about the bipartisan-backed bill in the coming weeks.