In Jan. 2018, a medical cannabis bill — the Compassionate Care Act — was filed in the S.C. General Assembly. Though the bill did not become law it was referred to the Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs where it received a favorable vote in May.

The bill is expected to resurface in the 2019 legislative session.

There is overwhelming public support for the bill, though it’s unclear if Gov. Henry McMaster would sign the bill should he be re-elected in November.

SC Gov Henry McMaster

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) [Image credit: WikiCommons]

Should it become law as currently written the Compassionate Care Act would make medical cannabis available to patients diagnosed with the following conditions: cancer, multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease or disorder, sickle cell anemia, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic muscular and pain conditions for which opioids are prescribed or for conditions causing a person to be home-bound with severe or persistent nausea.

The law would also create a Medical Cannabis Review Board that could add additional medical conditions to the list of approved conditions over time.

The bill, should it pass, would also will allow for the licensing and regulation of “15 cultivation centers, 30 processing facilities and one dispensary for every 10 pharmacies in the state, in addition to five independent testing laboratories,” according to the Marijuana Policy Project’s review of the bill.

South Carolina’s annual legislative sessions begin on the second Tuesday of January of each year and usually run through the second Thursday in May. For 2019, that makes the SCGA’s start date Jan. 8.

Parents push for medical cannabis

“Every state is an island on this issue,” says Jill Swing, one of the parents who founded the South Carolina Compassionate Care Alliance, a group that advocates for medical cannabis access for their ill children.

Swing’s 10-year-old daughter, Mary Louise, has intractable epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

Once she realized that cannabis could help her daughter, Swing says her family considered moving to Colorado where cannabis is legal for medical and recreational use.

“That wasn’t something that was particularly feasible for us,” Swing says.

SC Compassionate Care Alliance
Jill Swing from Facebook

Jill Swing [Photo source: Facebook]

Of South Carolina’s cannabis prohibition, she says, “It forces moms like us onto the black market to get medicine for our kids. That’s just not the way you want to access your child’s medicine”

“What we need is in-state cultivation and a truly state-regulated product so we will know that it is what it says it is and that it’s grown under specific requirements,” Swing says. “We want to know that what we’re giving our children – if nothing else – a safe and consistent product.”

She continued, “We’ll figure out efficacy down the road, but at least let’s make sure that it’s not going to harm our children, that (medical cannabis) doesn’t have pesticides or residual solvents in it that could do more harm than good.”

Bipartisan support for medical cannabis

In June 2018, South Carolina voters who participated in the Democratic primary voted in favor of medical cannabis 82 percent to 18 percent, though the vote is non-binding.

The Republican primary did not include the same question — “Do you support passing a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?” — on its primary ballot, or any other question about cannabis, so it’s unclear where South Carolina’s Republican voters stand on the issue in this election cycle.

However, in Aug. 2018, the East Cooper Republican Club of Charleston hosted a forum on the event.

And it’s worth noting that state Rep. Eric Bedingfield, a Republican from Greenville County who resigned this year, became a proponent of legalizing cannabis after his son died following an opioid overdose.

Additionally, Republican Rep. Mike Pitts, a retired law enforcement officer who represents Greenwood and Laurens Counties, has himself, years ago, introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana altogether.

Still, according to the Tina Arnoldi, a licensed professional counselor in Charleston, via the Theravive website, “Resistance to the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act comes in part from law enforcement and because South Carolina is a conservative state.” Theravive is a website focused on mental health and networking for therapists.

According to a 2016 Winthrop University poll, 78 percent of those polled support legalizing medical marijuana in South Carolina.

SC Rep Eric Bedingfield

Rep. Eric Bedingfield (R – Greenville County)

SC Rep Mike Pitts

Rep. Mike Pitts (R – Greenwood and Laurens Counties)

Will Gov. McMaster sign the bill?

The Post and Courier reports that it is unclear if S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican and former U.S. Attorney, will sign a medical cannabis bill or if he differentiates between medical and recreational cannabis.

In 2017, ABC News Columbia reported McMaster as saying, “It’s a bad idea to legalize marijuana. … I don’t think it’s healthy.”

He also told reporter Alicia Barnes that he didn’t think a medical marijuana bill would make it as far as his desk.

McMaster is up for re-election this year in a tight race with Democrat James Smith, according to The State. “… those surveyed did not have high opinions of the governor,” the capital-city newspaper reported in Aug. 2018.

BY Rhiannon Fionn

BY Rhiannon Fionn

Editor & Publisher

Rhiannon Fionn is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C.

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