50 States

50 States: South Carolina

By Jon Young

Medical: CBD-oil only
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

It will be at least another year before South Carolina decides on the legality of medical marijuana (MMJ) in their state after a bill sponsored by Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaumont) was rejected by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee in April 2016. The bill would have allowed patients with a listed condition to obtain and use MMJ, if recommended by their doctors.

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

Support for MMJ is high in South Carolina—nearly 60 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and nearly half of Republicans all support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, according to an ABC News 4/Post and Courier Poll—but there remains high profile opposition, especially from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the South Carolina Medical Association.

“This legislation, with the very best of intentions, will end up having negative long-term impacts on those very individuals who are seeking help,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said. Adding that without proper research and documentation from the Federal Drug Administration, approving the legislation would be “incredibly irresponsible,” according to the Times and Democrat.

Tim Pearce, President of the South Carolina Medical Association, worries legalizing MMJ would put doctors in an uncomfortable position as recreational users might seek medical prescriptions.

“This will put South Carolina physicians in the unprofessional role of being gatekeepers for marijuana use that is overwhelmingly recreational,” Pearce said.

In addition to opposition by SLED and the S.C. Medical Association, an anti-marijuana campaign led by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s administration is using taxpayer money to fund an initiative named “The Blunt Truth” that distributes anti-cannabis legalization material. Propaganda eerily reminiscent of Reefer Madness, if less overtly racist, researches, creates and disseminates educational materials on the impact of marijuana use, according to their website.

While there is firm opposition to full MMJ legalization, South Carolina legalized CBD (cannabidiol) oil in 2014 for those suffering from intractable seizures. CBD oil is low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the compound in cannabis that gives a user the euphoric feeling of being “high,” and has been found to reduce seizures in many patients suffering from conditions like Dravet’s Syndrome.

One parent, Janel Ralph, wanted to try CBD oil for her five-year-old daughter, Harmony, but the state left no provision for legally procuring the oil without smuggling it across state lines or purchasing it online.

“I knew CBD oil could be beneficial, yet, it was so hard to get,” Ralph said. “There's an underground black market for this medicine. I know people who were getting products that weren't what they were promised. I was able to find some for Harmony, and it worked. She was doing great! But then my supply started dwindling. I was scared to death. I thought at one point, ‘Oh my God, I'm going to have to cold turkey my daughter in taking this away.'”

So, she started her own business, growing and selling CBD oil legally within the Palmetto State. Her product, called Palmetto Harmony, is now available in a handful of places around the state.

For those hoping for broader reform of marijuana laws in South Carolina, it may be years before local government is ready to express the will of its people. Possession of cannabis in any amount is still a crime, with less than one ounce a misdemeanor and a possible $200 fine, and access to medical marijuana for those suffering from a range of conditions is delayed once more.

“We have a law in place that allows individuals to consume medicines based in opiates,” Sen. Davis said. “But something that is much less dangerous, not addictive, and much more effective at relieving pain—we’re somehow going to let social prejudices that we’ve had for decades to stand in the way of a doctor.”

Photo credit: Unsplash.

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