The S.C. General Assembly is likely to be buzzing about marijuana during 2015, so The Buzz decided to dig into the weeds on the subject.
Two pre-filed bills in the House would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and make medical marijuana legal.
The bill to reduce the penalty for first-offense possession of an ounce of marijuana to a fine of $200 or less was pre-filed by state Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, a retired police officer.
“I never had to fight or get in high-speed chases with people who smoked pot,” Pitts said, adding marijuana, in his opinion, is not as bad as alcohol, which he says can cause domestic violence, high-speed chases and violent confrontations.
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A criminal record of marijuana possession from when someone is a young adult also can hurt that person later, if they want to switch careers, Pitts added.
Changing the penalty to a fine would be similar to a speeding ticket, he said.
State Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, a co-sponsor of the bill, is an attorney whose parents both have more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement.
When law enforcement officers spend time on cases of simple marijuana possession, that takes away resources that could be used to prosecute violent crimes, he said.
The bill also is co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford and state Rep. Deborah Long, R-Lancaster.
Rutherford also is a sponsor of the “Put Patients First Act,” which would make it legal for physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for certain medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma and AIDS. .
If the bill becomes law, doctors could prescribe marijuana to treat symptoms of severe pain, severe nausea, seizures and multiple sclerosis.
The idea has the backing of S.C. Democrats.
In the June primaries, Democratic voters were asked about medical marijuana in a nonbinding ballot question, and 75 percent said medical marijuana should be legalized in cases of severe, chronic illnesses, when documented by a physician.
But Republicans, including Pitts, also could be on board.
“I can’t see how anyone opposes medical marijuana usage,” Pitts said.
Rutherford filed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it died when the session ended.
However, the Legislature passed a bill that allows the use of cannabidiol, an oil extracted from marijuana, to treat seizures, pushed by state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.
Davis said he plans to file more bills related to medical marijuana this session. The bills are the result of a medical marijuana study committee, chaired by Davis, that has been meeting since the spring.
One bill would establish the protocols for growing, extracting and dispensing cannabidiol. Another would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. However, Davis said his proposal includes more regulation than Rutherford’s bill, which allows patients to grow small amounts of their own marijuana.
“I would envision a much more controlled and supervised process by the state,” Davis said.
Still, Davis anticipates push-back against his bill from social conservatives and the law enforcement community.
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