South Carolina prides itself on supporting veterans and promoting medical innovation and freedom. With Kentucky legalizing medicinal cannabis last week, however, 38 states are now more committed to these issues than the Palmetto State.
But the South Carolina legislature is standing on the precipice of changing that. The Senate is considering a bill, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, that would allow physicians to prescribe cannabis products to a limited subset of patients with certain conditions.
Legislators should seize this historic opportunity for South Carolina’s patients, veterans, and medical community.
For many, medical cannabis has a bad reputation: Some markets in other states have been abused to give otherwise-healthy people access to marijuana, undermining the rule of law. Further, the medical legitimacy of a patient smoking a joint strike many as implausible, if not perverse. This bill capably addresses both concerns while enabling patients to receive the care that is best for them.
Rigorous scientific studies point to the medical promise of cannabis products for some conditions. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine compiled and assessed the results of over 10,000 scientific studies on cannabis. The resulting report highlights that cannabis can help those struggling with nausea due to chemotherapy, muscle spasms due to multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. It can also help those with autism.
Other studies have not only corroborated these positive findings but found that cannabis can help those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—which burdens many veterans—and that it has helped reduce dependence on opioids among those struggling with pain.
These studies note potential side effects, as well, but these are not an argument for prohibiting medical cannabis, but rather for requiring a doctor’s supervision—which this bill does. Doctors would have to prescribe it, but they could only do so for a set of 12 conditions listed in the bill, conditions for which scientific studies have demonstrated the efficacy of cannabis. And patients could only have enough on hand for two weeks. These are the same steps we take for other drugs prescribed by a doctor.
Such restrictions mean that it would be more difficult for cannabis to fall into the hands of those for whom it isn’t intended—and if it does, there are stiff penalties. Further, this bill would prohibit both growing marijuana for personal medical use and smoking marijuana as a method of treatment. Patients would primarily be able to use cannabis by ingesting it through food or a pill, or by rubbing it with a lotion.
These stipulations are just part of the reasonable regulations that this bill would erect around cannabis products. Before prescribing, doctors would have to check if the patient has struggled with substance abuse in the past. Patients would only be able to purchase cannabis products from dispensaries with a pharmacist on-site.
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In short, while this bill would introduce greater freedom and more options to patients and veterans suffering from some acute challenges, it won’t transform South Carolina into a pothead’s paradise. In fact, marijuana advocates have criticized the bill for being too restrictive.
It is likely that these restrictions will make it difficult for some to access the products that would best treat their medical condition, but the proposed system is far superior to what South Carolina has now. And the cautious approach matches the conservative temperament of the Palmetto State.
But just because a state is conservative in its values doesn’t mean it can’t provide the best possible care for its veterans and others who are struggling with debilitating pain or PTSD. Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma have all permitted medical cannabis in recent years, and nobody will accuse those states of being progressive bastions. And the bill’s primary sponsor, Beaufort Senator Tom Davis, is a tried-and-true conservative.
Allowing individuals to access the best possible treatments for their conditions shouldn’t be conservative or liberal. It should be common sense. The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act empowers individuals by opening to patients a new class of scientifically promising treatments. The legislature should pass it.
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