Pubdate: Thu, 29 Mar 2018
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2018 The State
Author: Jeff Wilkinson


Medical marijuana cleared a key committee on Thursday and headed to
the floor of the S.C. Senate.

But the 8-6 vote by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee came as
enforcement leaders are hardening their opposition, saying it is
another step toward legalized recreational marijuana in the Palmetto

"That's what we've seen in every state," State Law Enforcement
Division Chief Mark Keel told The State after the committee vote.
"There's not a state that hasn't (gone) in steps. And we've seen our
state go through the same steps. From CDB oil to hemp to medical
marijuana to recreational marijuana. And that's what we've seen in
every state . So I have no reason to think its going to be any
different in ours."

Last year, the General Assembly passed, and the governor signed, a
bill green-lighting a pilot hemp-growing program that allowed 20 S.C.
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 recreational marijuana use, is
inching ahead.

But for Jill Swing, that reasoning rings hollow. Her 10-year-old
daughter, Mary Louise, has severe intractable epilepsy, can't speak
and can't stand without help.

Mary Louise suffered from 800 to 1,000 seizures a day until the Swings
began treating her with hemp oil in addition to the prescription drugs
benzodiazepine and zonegran. The seizures dropped to 80 to 100 per

But Mary Louise is starting to have convulsive tonic-clonic seizures.
So Jill and Mary Louise traveled to Maine recently to utilize medical
marijuana, which has much higher levels of THC -- the psychoactive
chemical in marijuana.

"She was not seizure free," said Jill, who is president and founder of
S.C. Compassionate Care Alliance, "but they almost completely went
away. She was alert. She is nonverbal but started babbling. She was
able to stand independently."

An amendment accepted by the committee on Thursday tightened the
original bill by:

* 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 be dispensed
only by methods such as oils, vapors and edibles.

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

It is unlikely that a medical marijuana bill will pass the General
Assembly this year, however. The bill's Senate sponsor, Tom Davis,
R-Beaufort, on Thursday said it would take "a miracle."

An identical House bill has not yet had a hearing before the Medical,
Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee. And, under
legislative rules, if one house doesn't pass the bill by April 10, it
would be difficult for the other to pass it this legislative session.

Senate opponents of the bill will likely take a lot of time to debate
the issue. For instance, state Sen. Tom Corbin of Greenville, a
medical committee member, said he had "myriad" questions about the

He said legalizing medical marijuana, even in a nonsmoking form as is
being considered, "opens a Pandora's box" and is "another step to
acclimatization of marijuana in South Carolina for recreational use."

But advocates argue that medical marijuana is a common sense
alternative to highly addictive opioid painkillers, considered a major
problem in South Carolina and the nation.

"We have this discussion about how to tackle the opioid crisis," Davis
said. "How do we address what everybody acknowledges is a societal
catastrophe? How do we get people off these addictive and debilitating
drugs? . . . It seems to me intellectually dishonest to not be talking
about cannabis as a way to ween our citizens from dependance on and
use of opiates."

Supporters say that even without passage, the table is set to revisit
the issue next session.

"I'll keep pushing this rock," Davis said.

Even Keel said he sympathizes with Swing, but there are many questions
to be answered.

"I'm compassionate, too, from the standpoint of children we can help,"
he said. "But I'm very concerned about all the children in the state
when government endorses something, that people think it's OK."

Swing said she hopes the discussions about medical marijuana over the
past session would bring more opponents like Keel to the table to find
a way to get it to her daughter, Mary Louise.

Keel and other opponents "are putting the well-being of healthy kids
over my special needs kid," she said. "All medicine should be kept out
of the hands of children. Even granny's heart pills."
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