Medical marijuana bill heads to South Carolina House floor

A bill allowing limited use of medical marijuana in South Carolina is heading to the House floor — the furthest the proposal has made it during the eight years its passionate supporters have been pushing for it.

A House committee voted 16-3 in favor of the bill Thursday.

The bill’s sponsor said if it passes, South Carolina’s law would be one of the most conservative of the nearly 40 states that allow marijuana for medical use.

Smoking the drug would be illegal. Instead, patients would have to use oil, salves, patches or vaporizers. The illnesses that can be treated are specified, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, sickle cell anemia, autism and some post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses. The marijuana could be obtained only through specially chosen pharmacies.

Doctors would have to meet patients in person and patients could only get a two-week supply at one time.

The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee made just a few minor changes to the bill that passed the Senate in February.

They added criminal background checks for distributors and security plans for their businesses. The exact strain of marijuana and what ingredients are in the oil, salve or other product would have to be given to patients. And the bill now allows some podiatrists with extra training to the list of doctors who can prescribe medical marijuana.

The bill’s chances on the House floor aren’t certain either way. It has both supporters and opponents among Democrats and Republicans.

Rep. Vic Dabney proposed 127 amendments to the bill. More than half were found out of order and pulled down more than two dozen more after feeling his concerns about the bill had been met.

The Republican from Camden has said he thinks the medical marijuana law covers too many conditions, saying at a public hearing earlier this week that people seek out medical or chemical help when there are “some things you just have to deal with, like a shaking hand.”

On Thursday, he said arguments that marijuana is organic and less dangerous than alcohol didn’t make sense either.

“Well poison ivy is an organic plant and I’m not going to chew it, or smoke it or rub it all over me,” Dabney said.

Many law enforcement agencies, including the Attorney General and the head of the state police also oppose medical marijuana, saying they want to wait until the federal government allows it and marijuana use can lead to people trying more dangerous illegal drugs.

The bill’s chances on the House floor aren’t certain either way. It has both supporters and opponents among Democrats and Republicans. It even split the only father-daughter lawmaker pair in the General Assembly.

Democratic Rep. Kimberly Johnson of Manning voted for the bill in her committee. Her father, Democratic Sen. Kevin Johnson of Manning, voted against it in February on the Senate floor.

Kimberly Johnson and other Democratic supporters of the bill pointed out that while much was made of children and people with terminal conditions being helped if the bill passes, many of the people speaking in favor of medical marijuana at Monday’s public hearing were veterans looking for help with PTSD and other disorders.

“We’re always telling veterans thank you for your service. But I believe that talk needs to be matched by the walk,” Kimberly Johnson said.

The bill is most closely associated with Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican who has dedicated eight years of his legislative career to medical marijuana. He attended the more than six-hour-long public hearing on Monday to see if there is anything else he could learn to make the bill better.

“This is not the Legislature prescribing medicine,” Davis told House members. “This is the Legislature getting out of medicine.

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