Advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana in South Carolina said they expect for 2018 to be the year state lawmakers advance legislation that decriminalizes the plant’s use for medicinal purposes.
Compassionate SC, a coalition that advocates for a medical marijuana program, held a news conference Tuesday where several legislators stressed that the effort to legalize medical marijuana in the Palmetto State made progress this year. But with fewer than three weeks left in this year’s legislative session, they said 2018 would be the year to enact a new law.
“It’s a process that we’re in the middle of here,” said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. “And change doesn’t happen overnight. People’s preconceived notions of marijuana or cannabis are not changed overnight.”
Davis said the 2017 session “has not been a failure,” adding that the ball has been moved down the field “considerably” thanks to testimony from medical experts and patients. Legislators will now work to establish “procedures and protocols” for when the law is enacted, he said.
The effort to decriminalize medical marijuana dates back to at least 2015, when both Davis and House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, introduced legislation that sought to legalize the plant for medicinal use.
Both legislators have repeatedly run into opposition from legislators and the law enforcement community. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel has continually opposed its use for medicinal purposes, arguing that it’s difficult to control where the marijuana goes once it is in the user’s hands.
But Rutherford said it is past time to change the law. He also believed 2018 would be the year, despite having opponents ask legislators to wait on further study and approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“The FDA is moving too slow for those parents who have children that are suffering,” Rutherford said. “The FDA is moving too slow for those people who are suffering from cancer who are simply trying to have an appetite so that they can eat.”
It remains unclear how President Donald Trump’s administration will approach the enforcement of federal marijuana law in states where its use has been legalized for medicinal purposes. More than half of the country has medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.
Former chief federal prosecutor Bill Nettles said there is an effort in the U.S. Congress to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug, which would clear the path for additional research and medicinal uses. With support growing for medical marijuana nationwide, Nettles said he doubts the federal government would intervene.
“It would be a disaster, if the federal government weighed into that states’ rights issue,” Nettles said. “I just don’t see that as being a winner on the federal level.”