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Senate panel approves medical marijuana proposal

Medical marijuana should be legal in South Carolina, a panel of state senators said Thursday.

A Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee voted unanimously to advance a bill that would make medical pot legal in the state.

Approving the proposal sends a strong signal that legalizing medical marijuana is something the General Assembly is going to act on, said state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, the bill’s main sponsor.

However, S.C. Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel told senators he opposes the proposal, which also outlines proposed guidelines for licensing S.C. marijuana growers and dispensaries.

The proposal would allow medical marijuana to be used to treat a variety of conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cannabidiol oil, an oil derived from marijuana, was legalized in South Carolina last year for treatment of certain forms of epilepsy.

Keel said the proposed seed-to-sale tracking program does not take into account what happens to marijuana once it is sold to a patient. In addition, availability drives marijuana use, he said. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, more adolescents use the drug than in states that have not, he said.

Senators were not impressed with that argument.

State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the only thing currently limiting how much marijuana high school students can buy is their pocketbook.

Davis said prescription drugs currently are abused. “Any system that we come up with is going to be abused.”

S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control chief Catherine Heigel said her agency, which would regulate dispensaries, does not have a position on the bill.

Senators also will meet again to hear testimony on the proposal. The Davis-Hutto proposal then will head to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee early next year. If the proposal passes there, it will go to the full Senate.

To become law, the proposal would have to pass the Senate and, then, the S.C. House.

Reach Cope (803) 771-8657.

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