‘Crossover Week’ has come and gone at the South Carolina State House. This is a key procedural deadline which determines which bills do — and all too often don’t — get approved by the time the legislative session ends. If a bill hasn’t “crossed over” from one chamber to the other by this point, chances are petty good it will still be stuck there when the gavel bangs in May signaling the end of the current legislative session.
There are many measures stuck in this legislative limbo. Some of them are eminently worthy of consideration – including a bill christened the Compassionate Care Act by its supporters. This legislation would permit the use of medicinal marijuana (which proponents refer to by its scientific name, ‘cannabis’) to provide relief for people suffering from serious pain. The Senate medical affairs committee advanced the bill to the full Senate in February. And there it still sits.
But its leading supporter isn’t giving up hope. In fact, he’s downright hopeful.
“It’s gonna happen sometime this year before we adjourn,” senator Tom Davis of Beaufort told me. “I feel confident there’s going to be an opportunity for the bill to be debated.”
Davis says there’s a parliamentary pathway that could flank the current hold blocking the bill but that “once it is debated, I feel confident we can get it passed.”
“It passed last year, 28 to 15,” Davis reminded readers, referring to an identical bill which cleared the Senate a year ago before being procedurally blocked in the House.
Any forward movement on the bill would encourage people dealing with conditions such as epilepsy, neurological disorders, chronic pain, PTSD, intense nausea, and other side effects accompanying chemotherapy and the family members who care for them.
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“It’s very frustrating to me to have a child who needs this medication,” Swing shared. “I’ve taken her out of state so it could be administered legally under a doctor’s care and guidance in another state. And I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact that it has on her. And I’ve heard dozens upon dozens of similar stories from our military veterans and family members. It’s so disheartening to see this lack of courage among our lawmakers to do what’s right for people who are suffering. I feel like the pushback for a long time was coming from SLED (the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division).”
A spokesperson for SLED – which has previously opposed medicinal marijuana – declined to comment for this story.
“I am compassionate to those who are suffering from debilitating diseases and illnesses,” Keel wrote. “However, this is why I support continued clinical trials; research; and forms of medicine that are legally obtained, FDA approved, prescribed by a physician, and dispensed by a pharmacist. This is what medicine is in the 21st century. This bill does not follow that model, which is why, in my opinion, this bill is not about medicine. It’s about legalizing marijuana in South Carolina.”
Davis pointed out the measure waiting to be brought to the Senate floor has tough safeguards to prevent abuse.
“This bill, from top to bottom, now is a very conservative, safe bill,” Davis said. “You’ve got doctors on the front end who have to authorize a patient’s use. You’ve got pharmacists on the back end who will dispense the cannabis to patients and consult with the patients. You’ve got regulation, every step of the process from the growing the processing to the dispensing. You have seed-to-sale tracking to make sure there’s no diversion. We’ve looked at the 37 or 38 states now that have already legalized medical cannabis. And we have taken from the best of all those laws. And we’ve come up with a bill that is a conservative template for states that want to empower doctors, that want to help patients but also want to draw a bright line against recreational use. This is that model bill.”
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Nationally, momentum is on the side of allowing the treatment. Kentucky recently authorized medical marijuana, and North Carolina’s legislature is poised to do likewise soon.
Davis further noted permitting the practice would provide security for patients who are forced to turn to illicit suppliers for the treatment they seek.
“There’s going to be somebody who’s so desperate to get relief that they go out there and buy marijuana in an unregulated market, and it’s going be contaminated or have fentanyl, and they’re going to die,” he said. “And that’s going be on our hands.”
For Swing and other families dealing with a loved one who suffers chronic pain, the wait is all too often a losing race against time.
“It is frustrating,” she said. “I’ve watched so many people who are advocating for this three, four, or five years ago. A lot of the children, sadly, have died. When memories pop up on Facebook, it is a very difficult thing to be reminded of that fact. I had one of those pop up a couple of days ago, and it’s heart-wrenching to think back to all those stories.”
Davis insists hope is on the legislative horizon.
“I think ultimately this is going to be a bill that South Carolinians can be very proud of.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at [email protected].
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