On Wednesday, the state lawmakers in Columbia started their first and most awaited assessment of a bill to legalize medical cannabis in South Carolina (SC), striving to stiffen regulations and the heated concerns that bill might lead to increased usage of the drug for recreation.
A Senate subcommittee led by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort attempted to quell obstruction from law enforcement, religious groups as well as the largest medical association in SC.
However, the panel did not decide on the measure but provided a clue on how the bill in question might be altered in the future.
It was during this meeting that the bill was put on a debate for the very first time this year even though it has gained lots of attention for the last two months.
In January, the top law enforcement officials and the South Carolina Medical Association had a joint press conference voice their concerns about the bill. Moreover, Attorney General Alan Wilson claimed that cannabis was “one of the most dangerous drugs” in the U.S since it is “the most misunderstood.”
An unknown group sent out many fliers last week criticizing the bill and accusing Tom Davies of wanting to make South Carolina “one big pot party.”
On Wednesday, the senators who were on the panel turned a deaf ear to the drama and direct their attention to finding ways by adjusting the legislation to help alleviate the concerns that it will allow the usage of marijuana for recreation purpose.
Since 2015, Sen. Davis has been trying to pass similar legislation. With the experience, the Senator has managed to prepare the latest 25-page proposal that properly regulates medical cannabis industry, which already in operation in 34 other states within the U.S.
“I would like to this bill to be tightly regulated and socially-conservative medical cannabis bill that allows people to gain access to medicine whenever they need it,” he said.
In addition, the bill in question also includes a number of restrictions in order to control how doctors are able to prescribe cannabis oils, marijuana as well as other cannabis products to patients.
The bill also specifies the types of medical conditions that determine those who qualify in getting the prescription depending on what they suffer from. These conditions include epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, cancer as well as individuals in hospice care.
To be able to work in the medical cannabis industry, one is required to get clearance by a State Law Enforcement Division background check. The Division would sentence those who divert medical cannabis for recreational use for up to 5 years in prison.
According to Davis, the optics of the bill in question matter as they offer an opportunity for the leaders to prove to the residents that they are serious in considering cannabis as medicine. Besides, they also show that legislators are also serious on ensuring that this drug is not abused and are also serious in imposing penalties on those who try to abuse the system.
The earlier efforts by Davis to pass the bill failed to succeed as it encountered serious conservative politics in S.C. With the resistance from local and state law enforcement officials, the legislation was derailed. Consequently, Senator Davis invited other members of the house to join him in researching any further changes.
Currently, the legislators are in discussion with SLED on its concerns about individuals driving under the influence of cannabis. They are analyzing the concerns of some medical experts about the use of cannabis in overcoming medical conditions. In addition to that, the lawmakers are holding a meeting with the South Carolina chamber of commerce to come up with better ways of making the restrictions surrounding usage of the drug in workplaces ideal for the proposed law.
Sen. Tom Davis said that his objective is having the oversight of the cannabis industry to cover everything from “seed to scale.”
According to Senator Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, lawmakers could reduce the number of medical officers allowed to administer medical marijuana by restricting it to health specialists like neurologists and oncologists. Any licensed doctor can prescribe cannabis to patients under the current bill.
Besides, Kimpson is looking for changes that will convince more people to support the bill for it to be passed into law, although he does not consider the current law too lax.
Whether the proposed changes will garner enough support to push for South Carolina to legalize medical cannabis successfully, it is something that is yet to be seen.