The Buzz

September 3, 2014

SC panel hears pleas for clarity in state’s medical pot laws

Janel Ralph had to stop her car near Camden on a trip to Columbia on Wednesday because her 5-year-old daughter, Harmony Newsom, was having a seizure.

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to thebuzz@thestate.com.

Janel Ralph had to stop her car near Camden on a trip to Columbia on Wednesday because her 5-year-old daughter, Harmony Newsom, was having a seizure.

The Myrtle Beach resident traveled to Columbia for the first meeting of a committee appointed by the Legislature studying the use of medical marijuana, hoping to find out how to get a marijuana derivative for her daughter’s seizures.

Despite a new law permitting treatment of certain forms of epilepsy with cannabidiol, Harmony, who suffers from multiple seizures a day, cannot get the marijuana derivative because it is illegal to transport between states, her mother said.

Among the things the marijuana study committee will address is how cannabidiol can be produced in South Carolina, said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, co-chairman of the panel appointed to develop a plan for the sale and use of medical marijuana.

But that is not all some of the members of the panel plan to do.

Davis said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would expand the legal uses of medical marijuana in South Carolina. Meanwhile, S.C. entrepreneurs want guidance from the panel — made up of lawmakers, doctors and state agency representatives — about another new law that legalizes growing industrial hemp in the state.

But Harmony could be in for a very long wait.

It could be two or three years before the Federal Drug Administration approves a cannabidiol drug, said Medical University of South Carolina president Dr. David Cole, a member of the medical marijuana committee.

Harmony also does not qualify for a planned clinical trial at MUSC because it is limited to five to 10 participants with Dravet Syndrome.

Harmony, who has a genetic condition called Lissencephaly, has three seizures on a “good day” and as many as 50 seizures on a “bad day,” her mother said. She takes five different anti-seizure medications.

Harmony’s mother supports the legalization of marijuana for medical uses but only if ingested, not smoked.

“For whatever reason, that plant, whatever it does, has a numerous amount of medicinal purposes,” Ralph told the committee.

‘One step at a time’

Davis said he plans to introduce legislation next session that would allow expanding the use medical marijuana for other conditions, including glaucoma,

So far, 23 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana.

Most S.C. residents support medical pot, according to a Winthrop Poll conducted in April. Nearly three out of four South Carolinians polled said the state should allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes.

In the Democratic primary in June, 75 percent of those casting ballots said marijuana should be legalized for use in cases of severe, chronic illnesses when documented by a physician.

Still, medical marijuana faces opposition.

State Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, said he voted to pass the cannabidiol bill because the oil extracted from marijuana could be controlled better than medical pot. He fears efforts to promote wider use of medical marijuana could lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“They’re just taking it one step at a time,” Smith said.

Gov. Nikki Haley signed the cannabidiol oil bill into law. However, her campaign did not respond Tuesday when asked her position on medical marijuana.

Haley’s Democratic challenger for governor in November, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, looks forward to reading the recommendations of the committee regarding pot’s medicinal usage, Sheheen’s campaign manager Andrew Whalen said.

“He believes any steps forward should be taken with input from the public, law enforcement, the medical community and bipartisan support,” Whalen said.

Hemp regulations vague, critics say

Another law that passed this year permits the growth of industrial hemp in South Carolina. Hemp is also derived from the cannabis plant but contains less of the ingredient that creates pot’s “high.”

Industrial hemp is grown for scientific, economic and environmental use, whereas marijuana is grown for narcotic use, the new S.C. law states.

Greg Bayne of Charleston said he wants to begin planting hemp next spring since the law makes it legal to grow. But, he added, those who want to begin farming hemp are hesitant to invest money, fearful lawmakers will go back and change state regulations.

Those regulations need some fine-tuning as well, Davis said. It is unclear now what agency would license hemp growers, he said.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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