‘Our bill is different.’ SC senator denies medical marijuana will lead to recreational use

·3 min read
Emily Bohatch

South Carolina Sen. Tom Davis fended off opponents of his medical marijuana bill during the second day of debate over the legislation.

“Our bill is different,” Davis said to critics looking to compare South Carolina to other states. “I think this is a bill South Carolinians would want.”

Davis took the podium for the second time late Thursday morning, armed with a binder full of studies and statistics in hopes of swaying some of his colleagues in favor of his ongoing efforts to legalize medical cannabis in South Carolina.

The Beaufort Republican has filed bills seeking to legalize medical marijuana in the state for more than seven years.

One of the first arguments brought up on the floor was whether South Carolina could be put on the path to legalizing recreational marijuana if lawmakers vote to pass medical cannabis. Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, said she worried that over time, the medical marijuana bill would become less and less restrictive until marijuana was widely available.

Davis said he couldn’t foresee the South Carolina Legislature, which has strong conservative majorities in both houses, legalizing recreational marijuana any time soon. Other states that have taken that path, he said, were far more socially liberal that South Carolina.

“Ultimately, the laws that we pass and the laws we put in our code are what we, as the General Assembly, think are best representative of what South Carolinians want,” Davis said.

Davis also faced questions about whether his bill could be abused.

Davis has often touted his bill as one of the strictest and more conservative in the country. The bill would only allow medical cannabis in the form of lotions and creams, oils, extracts, capsules, other edible forms and oils for vaporization. All medical marijuana products would have to be prescribed by a licensed doctor.

Raw, smokeable cannabis would not be legalized under the bill. The bill also limits who can be prescribed medical marijuana. Users must have been diagnosed with chronic conditions like cancer, epilepsy, seizures, terminal illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorder. The marijuana also could be prescribed in place of opioids for patients that have chronic or debilitating conditions.

“Do you think that the same doctors that are currently loose with their prescriptions might be loose with medical marijuana?” Senn asked.

Davis outlined provisions in his bill that restrict doctors from prescribing on-demand, wide spread marijuana. The bill contains a strict list of conditions that doctors can use cannabis to treat, including cancer, glaucoma, PTSD and epilepsy. Doctors seeking to prescribe cannabis must show that the condition the patient has is within the physicians area of practice.

Doctors would also be required to certify that they have a bonafide, long-term relationship with the patient. They must also certify that they have consulted the patients’ controlled substance history, their medical history, the mental illness history, their history of substance abuse and their family medical history.

Physicians would also have to show that other medications had not worked for treating that patient’s symptoms.

Doctors who don’t follow the terms of the bill would face penalties, such as sanctions from the medical board, Davis said.

“It’s not discretionary. It’s not, ‘they can do it if they want to,’” Davis said. “It’s what they have to do and certify in writing.”

Senn did not seem satisfied that the process laid out in the bill was strict enough. Davis told her to offer up an amendment later.

Davis conceded on the floor Thursday that his bill did need some more work. Specifically, he said he was planning to introduce an amendment next week to integrate pharmacists and their expertise at dispensaries.

The Senate adjourned for the day at about 2 p.m., before Davis could finish his explanation of the bill. Debate is expected to resume Tuesday at noon.

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