SC: Medical Marijuana Backer Says House Leaders Blocked Vote As Name-Calling Erupts

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State Rep. Jonathon Hill has accused leaders in the state House of Representatives of blocking a key vote on a bill that would legalize medical marijuana as a state Senate subcommittee has advanced its own amended bill to allow its use.

Hill, a Republican from Townville, said that House Speaker Jay Lucas intentionally dragged out floor proceedings Tuesday and then a committee chairman canceled a meeting to prevent a vote on the medical marijuana measure. Hill is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“There is no reason for that except to dodge this issue,” Hill said in a Facebook post.

He also said Lucas and House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee Chairman Leon Howard “think that they know better than doctors and patients — and it shows just how how out of touch they are with the people of South Carolina.”

In a video accompanying his Facebook post, Hill said, “Folks this is utterly inexcusable, and I’m not going to stand for it.”

Today, House leadership pulled an unusual dodgeball political tactic to block the medical cannabis bill from getting out of committee.

Posted by Rep. Jonathon Hill on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday’s committee meeting was canceled just hours after medical marijuana advocates held a news conference at the Statehouse.

In his video, Hill urged medical marijuana supporters to call Lucas and let him know “it is utterly reprehensible of him to stand in the way of us getting a vote on this issue this year.”

Lucas could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Howard responded sharply to Hill’s comments.

“Jonathon Hill is the most ineffective, worthless piece of crap that I have ever served with,” Howard said. “I feel sorry for his district.”

A state Senate subcommittee, meanwhile, voted 3-2 Wednesday to pass an amended medical marijuana bill. The measure will now move to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee for consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Davis, said the legislation probably won’t be approved unless law-enforcement officials drop their objections to legalizing medical marijuana.

Mark Keel, chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, has said he won’t support legalization of medical marijuana until it is approved as a medication by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Keel said, “We received a copy of the proposed legislation yesterday. As such, we have not had an opportunity to fully review the bill.

“We continue to support legislation to provide additional funding for studies at the federal level which would lead to regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Any legislation would also need to be in full compliance with all applicable state and federal laws.”

Davis, a Republican from Beaufort, said the amendment that he introduced Wednesday is meant to address some of the concerns that law-enforcement officials have raised. He said the amendment would prevent medical marijuana from being smoked by patients and also limits the number of conditions for which medical marijuana could be prescribed.

But Davis also acknowledged that his amendment “may fall short of what law enforcement wants.”

“Truly all I am trying to do is get medicine in the hands of people who need it,” Davis said.

Davis also said medical marijuana could be a viable option for patients instead of opioid painkillers.

“We cannot honestly and in good faith tell the people of South Carolina that we are addressing the opioid crisis if we are turning blinders to a much more benign alternative,” Davis said.

The two dissenting votes in Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting were cast by Sen. Thomas Alexander, a Republican from Walhalla, and Sen. Kevin Johnson, a Democrat from Manning.

“There are valid reasons why law enforcement and some medical professionals don’t like this bill,” Johnson said.

Across the nation, at least 29 states have approved medical marijuana laws. Davis said polls show that 70 to 80 percent of South Carolina residents support legalizing marijuana.

“This isn’t going to go away,” Davis said. “We have an opportunity right now to be a model for the nation. We can put forward what a truly conservative, patient-physician-centered medical cannabis bill looks like.”