Bills to expand the legal use of medical marijuana in South Carolina will be filed in the House and Senate within the next three weeks, lawmakers leading that effort said Thursday.
However, state law enforcement officials and doctors said they will oppose those efforts.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and state Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester, also plan to file legislation that would make it easier for patients with prescriptions to obtain cannabidiol. That bill would set up protocols and regulations for growing cannabis, from which the oil is derived, and extracting and dispensing cannabidiol in South Carolina.
Another bill would provide guidance for growing hemp for industrial uses.
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Davis expects the cannabidiol and industrial hemp bills to pass the Legislature with comparative ease, noting the General Assembly passed a cannabidiol bill last year. That bill approves the medical use of cannabidiol that is no more than 0.9 percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Davis expects more opposition to expanding the legal use of medical marijuana. But Davis said his proposal is conservative compared with rules in other states. State agencies would regulate production of cannabis, and physicians would have to prescribe its use for post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, the after-effects of chemotherapy and other ailments.
However, the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division and S.C. Medical Association told lawmakers Thursday they oppose legalizing medicinal marijuana.
“We have a problem calling marijuana, in a smokable form, medicinal,” SLED toxicologist Wendy Bell told the legislative committee studying medical marijuana. Bell said no other medicine has been approved for use in South Carolina without the approval of the Federal Drug Administration.
In addition, the illegal market in marijuana thrives when medical pot is legalized, she said, because marijuana can be masked as legal. There also are unknown risks to the public from second-hand smoke from marijuana, she said.
Tim Pearce, president of the S.C. Medical Association, said giving physicians the ability to write prescriptions for medical marijuana could lead to recreational pot users seeking prescriptions.
“This will put South Carolina physicians in the unprofessional role of being gatekeepers for marijuana use that is overwhelmingly recreational,” Pearce told legislators
He also said there is limited evidence, apart from anecdotes, that marijuana is effective as a medicine.
But Charleston parent Jill Swing told lawmakers that cannabidiol has worked for her 7-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
Swing said her daughter was taking FDA-approved medications that caused side effects, including drooling, ticks, dizziness, hand tremors and anxiety.
Since her daughter, Mary Louise, began using cannabidiol in September, there has been a significant improvement in her brain map, Swing said. “To me that’s quantitative. That’s not anecdotal.”
Using cannabidiol also has allowed the Swings to wean Mary Louise off some of her prescribed medications, she said. “Her improvement and learning at school has been remarkable.”
Swing also deflected t criticism that marijuana causes brain development problems in pediatric patients.
“Seizures cause brain damage,” she said. “So would I rather my child stop breathing and turn blue and have brain-cell damage because of that?”