South Carolina lawmakers will take up the issue of medical marijuana this week – with longtime advocate Tom Davis, a veteran state senator from Beaufort County, pushing to get a long-awaited legalization bill through the State Senate.
Dubbed the “Compassionate Care Act,” Davis’ bill – S. 423 – has eleven co-sponsors. It was set for special order this week – meaning senators voted to bring it forward to the top of their calendar for a debate on the floor. The legislation cleared the S.C. Senate medical affairs committee last February, but senators refused to debate it at the time.
Davis’ bill would create a heavily regulated medical marijuana program in the Palmetto State, one in which pharmacists would oversee the distribution of cannabis to select patients based upon the recommendation of their physician.
A previous version of medical marijuana legalization passed the Senate in 2022 by an overwhelming bipartisan margin, but it was killed in the S.C. House of Representatives. So-called “Republican” leaders in the House – led by speaker pro tempore Tommy Pope – resorted to procedural gimmickry to block a vote on the bill.
Why? Because they knew it would pass if they held a vote on it …
To his credit, Davis took the defeat like “a true statesman.”
Davis’ newest bill removed a revenue-raising component cited by House leaders as their reason for blocking the measure in 2022. In South Carolina, bills which raise revenue as their “primary purpose” must originate in the House, not the Senate. Davis’ bill clearly did not fit this “primary purpose” definition, but Pope and his allies used it as an excuse to rule it “out of order” nonetheless.
Davis has reportedly received assurances from S.C. House speaker Murrell Smith that his new bill will not suffer the same fate this year, but several of its opponents were reportedly searching hard for a new procedural gimmick this week.
Let’s hope they do not find one …
Both the House and the Senate are controlled by “Republican” supermajorities, however neither chamber has a good track record when it comes to advancing the stated GOP goal of “more personal freedom.” In the case of Davis’ bill, several members of the chamber’s generally conservative Freedom Caucus have previously aligned against it – which I find both disappointing and hypocritical.
Anyone advocating for “freedom” has no business opposing this legislation …
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“This bill, from top to bottom, now is a very conservative, safe bill,” Davis told our Mark Powell last year. “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.”
For those with friends and family members eager to avail themselves of this new treatment option, Davis’ bill cannot pass soon enough. Tens of thousands of South Carolinians dealing with conditions such as epilepsy, neurological disorders, chronic pain, PTSD, intense nausea, and other side effects accompanying chemotherapy have waited more than a decade for it to become law.
“What can I say that I haven’t already said over the past 10 years fighting for legal access to medical cannabis for my daughter, who has intractable epilepsy?” Swing told me on the eve of the Senate debate.
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Swing specifically called out senators like Tom Young of Aiken – who represents her dying mother – for voting against advancing the bill.
“I’m currently at my mom’s in Aiken, S.C.,” Swing told me. “She has aggressive stage four liver cancer and literally has days to live. The doctor gave her less than a month – and that was two weeks ago. Every day, we see a greater decline. Yesterday she didn’t eat or drink anything at all. My mom’s own senator, Tom Young – whom she knows – voted against giving the Compassionate Care Act a special order slot and will probably ultimately vote against the bill itself. If my mom had one ounce of strength, I’m certain she would have picked up the phone yesterday and told him what she thought of his vote.”
“Thousands of patients in South Carolina suffer in silence because they aren’t able to reach out to their representatives and tell them what they need,” Swing added. “Or, when they do, their message falls on deaf ears. As the Senate begins debate on the Compassionate Care Act – a bill they passed by a vote of 28-15 two years ago – they need to stop the political pandering and actually listen to the needs of those who will truly need the relief that, in many cases, only cannabis can provide. This suffering has to stop and 170 individuals in Columbia have the ability to make it happen. I pray they do. Some patients don’t have time to wait.”
I echo that prayer … it is past time to pass this legislation in South Carolina.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.
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