Senate health panel kills marijuana bill over police concerns

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted against advancing a medical marijuana bill to the Senate floor Thursday. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who has been working on the bill for two years, said he will continue to work on his bill that he says would help those suffering from seizures and pain.

COLUMBIA – A Senate health panel killed a medical marijuana bill Thursday in deference to law enforcement concerns over the pain relief for patients who the bill’s author said would have benefitted.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, told the Senate Medical Affairs Committee his bill restricted access to medicinal marijuana and derivatives like cannabidiol only to patients certified by a doctor. A failed amendment would’ve added stricter licensing requirements for cultivation centers, dispensaries and sales tracking.

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

Committee chairman Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, began the hearing by telling Davis his concern “is this bill would put us one step closer to Colorado.”

Coloradoans legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 2000 and recreational use in 2012, both by ballot initiatives.

Two years ago Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill to allow for people to possess cannabidiol. The law, however, did not provide a way for patients to legally obtain the oil which is separated from marijuana’s psychoactive THC component.

Davis said information gathered during two years of hearings and through working with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control on his legislation made it “the best in the country,” in comparison to the 35 other states that have medicinal marijuana laws on the books.

Committee Democrats and Republicans alike were sympathetic to the plight of children and adults who suffer from seizures and the pain that cannabidiol reportedly helps alleviate, but not enough to outweigh abuse concerns.

“The real issue why it is still difficult for law enforcement to support this issue is the ability to be able to control the sale and enforcement as it relates to the black market,” Sen. John Scott, D-Richland said.

Davis said law enforcement officials have refused to sit down with him to discuss their concerns.

“Law enforcement is out of touch,” Davis told the committee. He pointed out that 70 percent of likely Republican primary voters in a Winthrop University poll support medicinal marijuana, as did 75 percent of 2014 Democratic primary voters.

Only four senators voted to adopt Davis’ stricter amendment before the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, voted with Davis to move the bill forward. Davis vowed to keep working on his bill. A companion bill authored by Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, remains in the House.