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SLED chief, SC senator clash over legalizing medical pot

Mark Keel
Mark Keel Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.co

S.C. Law Enforcement Chief Mark Keel told a highway safety conference Tuesday that he opposes the legalization of marijuana — for medical or recreational use.

Legalizing marijuana leads to more traffic fatalities, crime, emergency room admissions, teen use and disciplinary problems at schools, Keel told Transportation Department employees and law enforcement officers.

Keel’s stance puts him at odds with a libertarian state senator who is pushing for South Carolina to legalize medical pot.

Keel said legalizing medical pot leads to abuse as consumers search out doctors willing to prescribe the drug, pay a fee and, with minimal consultation, get a prescription. It is difficult to control how a legal product is diverted once it is in the hands of the purchaser, the SLED chief added.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, has been pushing to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina.

In 2014, Davis helped legalize the use of cannabidiol for some ailments. And Davis said Monday that he is "very optimistic that next year is going to be the tipping point" in legalizing medical pot.

Republican Davis pointed to a 2014 Democratic primary question where 75 percent of voters said medical pot should be legalized.

The disconnect between what people want and what laws permit only can go on for so long, said the libertarian-leaning senator.

Five years from now, Davis said he expects South Carolina will permit the medical use of marijuana, adding he hopes that legalization takes place sooner but includes tight controls over its prescription.

During the last few weeks of the legislative session that ended in June, Davis opened each day by telling the stories of S.C. citizens who, he said, have or could benefit from medical pot.

After hearing the stories, several senators said they had changed their minds on the issue.

As part of a medical marijuana study committee, SLED representatives also have heard stories from family members about relatives with debilitating diseases who are desperate for the legalization of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, Keel said.

‘It would be difficult … for anyone to say we were not moved by the desperate pleas by these citizens for help," Keel said, adding the missing element is scientific proof.

Instead of pushing to legalize its medical use, advocates should research marijuana’s effects, Keel said. "Bypassing this very vital step of having science-based decisions" will lead to undesired results, he added.

The nationwide effort to legalize medical marijuana shows it provides relief, Davis said.

"A push like this doesn’t arise on such a broad level unless there is strong empirical evidence that it provides relief,” the Republican state senator said. "It’s frustrating to me that we still have this 1950s mindset about cannabis when it comes to what its therapeutic benefits might be."

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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