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SC Medical Cannabis Battle Escalates

Palmetto State’s decriminalization debate is reaching a point of critical mass …

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The debate over legalizing medical marijuana in South Carolina is suddenly heating up in both the S.C. House of Representatives and the State Senate – with escalating tensions taking hold in the former chamber and a fragile détente holding fast (for now) in the latter.

What will be the ultimate outcome of this increasingly acrimonious/ tenuous public policy discourse?  That remains to be seen … but the issue is clearly on everyone’s radar.  And moving toward some sort of resolution.

That’s good …

This news site has long championed the decriminalization of marijuana – both medically and recreationally.  In fact we think the debate over medical marijuana is honestly misplaced.  Seriously: Why not just cut the crap and let’s figure out how to legalize it … period.

Anyway, the medical cannabis debate has descended into chaos in the House chamber.  There, state representative Jonathon Hill – a limited government advocate and passionate supporter of decriminalization – accused S.C. speaker of the House Jay Lucas of using procedural tactics to prevent a committee vote on the House’s medical cannabis bill (H. 3521).

“There is no reason for that except to dodge this issue,” Hill said in Facebook video.  “This is utterly inexcusable, and I’m not going to stand for it.”

Is this particular line of criticism from Hill (below) legitimate?  We’re not sure … but Lucas has been accused of blocking this legislation in the past.

So, we’re not going to dismiss Hill’s allegation out of hand …

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Legitimate or not, Hill’s broadside drew a particularly caustic rebuke from Leon Howard – the Democratic chairman of the House medical, military, public and municipal affairs (a.k.a. 3M) committee.

“Jonathon Hill is the most ineffective, worthless piece of crap that I have ever served with,” Howard told reporter Kirk Brown of The (Anderson, S.C.) Independent Mail.

Wow … you stay classy, representative Howard.

While Hill and Howard were “debating” over the House’s bill, high stakes negotiations between the true principals on this issue were taking place regarding the Senate’s version of decriminalization (S. 212) – which was recently amended in an effort to try and mollify objections from law enforcement leaders.

On the pro-cannabis side, the undisputed leader of this fight is clearly state senator Tom Davis – the lead sponsor of the Senate bill.  On the anti-cannabis side, we’re obviously referring to Mark Keel, who earlier this month was reconfirmed to a second, six-year term as chief of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

These two antagonists got together last month in Davis’ office at the S.C. State House in the hopes of hammering out their differences on this issue.

“I realized that in the short-term – and I would absolutely put the emphasis on short-term – we’re not going to get a medical marijuana bill passed without law enforcement buy-in,” Davis told us.  “And when I say ‘law enforcement buy-in,’ I’m talking about Chief Keel, because let’s face it he is the face of ‘law enforcement’ in this state on this particular issue.”

According to both Davis and Keel, this confab took place on February 13.

“I did meet with Chief Keel,” Davis told us.  “I’ve heard his concerns, I’ve listened to every one of them.  I’ve tried to incorporate them.”

So did Davis’ amended bill – which removed smokeable marijuana as a method of consumption, among other concessions – meet with Keel’s approval?

No … it did not.

“This bill to me is just a repackaging of the same bill that was originally introduced,” Keel told us this week.

He did commend Davis for striking smokeable marijuana, however.

“That’s good,” Keel said. “I give them credit for that.  But in essence it is still the same bill.”

Keel cited numerous problems with the amended legislation – including its failure to establish standards for the potency of the product being sold, the paraphernalia used in consuming it, its liberal definition of “chronic pain,” and the inability of local governments to “opt-out” of the proposed program, to name just a few.

Keel also said he was worried his agency – and other state agencies like the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) – would be saddled with unfunded mandates if the medical cannabis program was implemented according to the language of the amended bill.

Bottom line?  He’s still not on board.

“It’s not a bill that – as it’s currently written – law enforcement could or would support,” Keel said.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Davis said he’s disappointed Keel isn’t on board with the amended legislation, but that he’s willing to continue negotiations with the law enforcement leader.

“I’m prepared to go to a dispensary model, I’m prepared to go to a state-owned model where they grow it, process it and sell it,” he said.  “I’ll get a lot of grief from the grassroots, but I’m all about getting medicine in the hands of people who need it.  And if that’s what does that, I’ll accept that.”

Davis said he doesn’t believe government should be in charge of the marijuana business in South Carolina, but that Keel’s recalcitrance on the issue has left him with no other choice.

“You do it, you run it,” he said, referring to Keel and his agency. “It’s not ideal, but at least it would be getting medicine where it’s needed.”

Davis added it was in Keel’s interest to take him up on the offer.

“He ought to see this as an opportunity to show the rest of the nation what a true conservative, true medicine-only medical marijuana bill looks like,” Davis said. “This could be the example we could hold out to the rest of the nation – not what’s happening in California.”

“He’s got a chance right now to put his stamp on it,” Davis added. “If he doesn’t, in two or three years he’s not going to be at the table.  Only Nixon could go to China, well … only Mark Keel could support a credible, conservative medical marijuana policy.”

Keel told us he is also still willing to continue negotiations.

“We’re not done looking at this,” he said. “We’re not done trying to find a way forward.”

Hopefully Davis and Keel can reach an agreement soon, because while the political battles are playing out in Columbia – medical marijuana advocates fighting for the well-being of their children continue to struggle.

Many anti-cannabis advocates have questioned the motivation (and the honesty) of certain advocates in the pro-pot movement, but one “marijuana mom” who has consistently earned the respect of both sides is Jill Swing of Charleston, S.C.

(Click to view)

(Via: Provided)

Swing’s ten-year-old daughter, Mary Louise Swing, has severe epilepsy – often experiencing more than 200 seizures per hour.  Since 2013, Swing has been pushing lawmakers to decriminalize certain types of cannabis that have proven effective at treating her daughter’s seizures.

“I’ve been fighting for the legalization of medical cannabis in South Carolina for nearly half of my daughter’s life,” Swing told us.  “During that time she has endured hundreds of thousands if seizures.  During that time 18,000 children in the United States have died from SUDEP – Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy.  Children like Mary Louise don’t have time to wait while our legislators continue to debate the issue.”

She’s right … and let’s hope for their sake this issue is resolved sooner rather than later (and resolved in a manner that protects all children).

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