Push for Medical Marijuana Kicks Off SC Legislative Session

Jill Swing speaks in favor of medical cannabis at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday.
Jill Swing speaks in favor of medical cannabis at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday.

COLUMBIA, S.C. —South Carolina lawmakers started a new legislative session Tuesday at noon, just after supporters of a bill to allow medical marijuana use pleaded for lawmakers to pass it. “I’m praying that this state will allow me to be treated legally for me to live,” said Bill Davis of Townville, who has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a condition in which lungs become stiff and breathing becomes more and more difficult over time.

He’s used CBD oil, which is made from the cannabis plant and contains almost no THC, the substance in marijuana that causes the “high.” Medical use of CBD oil is legal in South Carolina. But for him, a mixture of CBD and a small amount of THC is necessary. “I had to choose whether to use medical marijuana or die.” Medical use of THC is not legal in South Carolina.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, is the main sponsor of the Senate bill.  “A poll was done a few weeks ago, statewide poll, that indicated, Republicans and Democrats alike, 78 percent of South Carolinians believe that doctors ought to be able to authorize medical cannabis use for patients who can benefit,” he told reporters.

He says he’s confident lawmakers will pass a medical cannabis bill this session. Jill Swing, president of SC Compassion, a new group formed to advocate for the bill, hopes he’s right. Her 9-year-old daughter Mary Louise has a form of epilepsy that causes severe seizures, sometimes at many as 1,000 a day.

“I took my daughter to Maine, where I had the opportunity to treat her under a doctor’s guidance using higher levels of THC than we could possess legally here,” she told reporters. “And. thankfully, she did experience, even in a very short time while we were there, great success.”

But the law enforcement community, especially the State Law Enforcement Division, opposes medical marijuana because of concerns that the marijuana will get diverted to recreational use. Sen. Davis says the bill includes seed-to-sale tracking of each plant to prevent diversion, and this bill took into account what the 28 states that allow medical marijuana have found does and doesn’t work.

Other big issues: lawmakers this session also hope to come up with a long-term plan to pay for road improvements. Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, says he’s confident they’ll pass a plan this year. One factor is that there were more highway deaths last year than the year before, an increase he says can at least partially be blamed on poor road conditions. “Lives of South Carolinians are at stake,” he says. “I think our economic opportunities are at stake as we move forward, and so now is the time to act.”

The House will consider a bill to raise the gas tax two cents a gallon a year for five years, while a Senate bill would raise it four cents a gallon a year for three years.

Other big issues are figuring out how to make the state’s pension system more financially stable. It currently has an unfunded liability of more than $20 billion. Lawmakers will also be talking about how to improve schools, particularly those in rural districts that sued the state over inadequate resources.