Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2018
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2018 The State
Author: Jeff Wilkinson


When Mack Hudson of Lexington was 16 years old, he was paralyzed when
he fractured his skull, broke his neck and shattered a key vertebrae
in a car wreck.

Over the past 10 years, he's been prescribed increasing doses of
opioids -- Percocet and Roxycodone to alleviate the pain.

"It messes with my head," he said. "I can't think straight. I can't
function straight. I'm just not myself."

So Hudson traveled to California and Colorado to experiment with

"It worked wonders," he said.

But Hudson will likely have to wait to get medical marijuana in the
Palmetto State.

A key SC House committee failed to even meet on the subject Tuesday,
despite a rally outside of the State House by advocates urging them do

And a Senate subcommittee barely passed a flock of amendments to a
bill before it was even allowed to rise to the committee level. That
caused the bill's author, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, admit that, for
the fourth year in a row, there wasn't enough time on the legislative
calendar to get a bill passed.

So why were some of the most dedicated medical marijuana advocates
smiling in the halls of the Senate's Gressette Building on Wednesday?

"We're making progress," said Janel Ralph, executive director of the
Compassionate South Carolina patient advocacy group. "The bill is
moving forward."

The march of cannabis in South Carolina has been slow but

Four years ago, the state legalized cannabis oils with less than 0.9
percent of the psychoactive chemical THC to control seizures in
children with epilepsy.

Last year, the General Assembly passed and the governor signed a bill
green-lighting a pilot hemp growing program that allowed 20 SC farmers
to grow 20 acres of hemp each. Hemp is marijuana's close cousin, but
without high enough levels of THC to get users high.

The hemp will be used for products as varied as hemp oil, textiles and
biomass. A bill allowing unlimited hemp cultivation, however, was
stuck in committee this year.

And now medical marijuana, which many consider, rightly or wrongly,
the gateway legislation to legalized recreation marijuana use, is
inching ahead.

The reason for the smile in the back halls of Gressette is that with
the amendments approved 4-1 by the Senate Medical Affairs
Subcommittee, advocates think they have a bill that will be palatable
to the entire General Assembly and the governor next year.

Supporters of the bill are also encouraged by polling that shows 78
percent of South Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medical

"We are getting the support to get this thing done," said Ralph of

But there are still many lawmakers who have strong reservations about
medical marijuana.

Sen. Kevin Jonson, D-Clarendon said it could be a cover for those just
want to smoke pot.

"It helps people who want marijuana for recreational use," he said. "I
hope we don't move it forward this year."

He voted against accepting the amendment to the bill, and elevating
the bill to the full committee.

And subcommittee chairman Sen. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens, said he
doubted the medical benefits of marijuana.

"I have reservations about the overwhelming medical benefits and I'm
chagrined by that," he said.

Verdin added he wanted the bill to adopt "the most conservative lines;
the most conservative in the country," before he voted to accept the
amendments and recommend the bill to the full committee.

On Wednesday, Davis ticked off the amendments he said would make South
Carolina's medical marijuana, or Compassionate Care Law as it is
called, the most conservative in the nation.

The amendments include:

* Prohibiting the dispensing or smoking of marijuana in its leaf
form and narrowing the number of qualifying health conditions that can
be treated with cannabis. Marijuana derivatives would only be
dispensed by methods such as oils, vapors and edibles.

* Allowing police access to every stage of growing, processing and
dispensing marijuana.

* Tightening the qualifications for physicians to recommend medical
marijuana as a treatment and requires them to enroll in continuing
education classes on the subject.

The key, Davis and other subcommittee members said, was the input and
participation of law enforcement. Mark Keel, head of the State Law
Enforcement Division has said medical marijuana would open a
"Pandora's box" if legalized in the state.

"The bill is not going to be taken up for consideration, much less
passed, unless we meet and address the concerns of law enforcement,"
Davis said. "I understand that."

But Davis added that not allowing patients like Hudson, the paralyzed
man from Lexington, the access to non-opioid pain relievers would be
"inhumane and immoral."

For Hudson, its a matter of common sense.

"Whenever I have a bottle of 120 Roxycodone (pills) and 120 Percocets
because the doctor prescribe it, people don't bat an eye," he said.
"But if I was to have a brownie with a little bit of cannabis in it,
people freak out. But the other drugs mess you up way more."

Davis said that legal or not, folks are going to find access to
marijuana if it helps their conditions or those of their loved ones.

"There has to be a way to keep these families from going to the black
market and becoming criminals," he said.

Opioid deaths in South Carolina increased by 21 percent from 2014 to
2016. In 2016, there were 616 opiod-related deaths in South Carolina
- -- twice the number of people who were murdered or died in car wrecks.

There were 101 deaths in Horry County, followed by 65 in Charleston
County and 53 in Greenville County, according to the state Department
of Alcohol and Other Abuse Services.

Not providing a non-addictive, legal alternative to those narcotics
doesn't make sense, Davis said.

"It's like we have blinders on," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Matt