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South Carolina: Legalization On Deck For 2016

Jacob Redmond

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Because she has seizures every day and slams into the ground, 18-year-old Dixie Pace has worn a helmet since November.

Pace uses cannabidiol oil, an oil derived from marijuana that was legalized in South Carolina last year for certain forms of epilepsy, to reduce her seizures from 50 down to an average of less than 10 a day.

"That's just one oil," Pace's mother, April Pace, said Wednesday during a State House rally, urging the Legislature to legalize medical marijuana. April Pace says access to a different oil extracted from marijuana, or the plant itself, could control further – or possibly stop – Dixie Pace's seizures.

Earlier Wednesday, April Pace testified to a panel of state senators considering a bill to allow the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions.

That proposal won't pass this year, senators said. But the proposal's lead sponsor, state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, told supporters, "This is going to get done."

Senators postponed debate of Davis' bill Wednesday, but they will hear more testimony from advocates and opponents before January, when the legislature begins the second year of its current two-year session.

State Sen. Ray Cleary, the Georgetown Republican who heads the Senate panel that heard testimony Wednesday, said he hopes the Senate will pass a medical marijuana bill in the first few days of the 2016 session.

The proposal has high-profile opponents.

Both the State Law Enforcement Division and S.C. Medical Association previously have said they oppose legalizing medicinal marijuana.

Tim Pearce, past president of the Medical Association, told a committee in January that giving physicians the ability to write prescriptions for medical marijuana would make them gatekeepers for illegal drug use. He added there is little evidence, apart from anecdotes, that marijuana is effective as a medicine.

State law enforcement officials previously have said the illegal marijuana market thrives when medical pot is legalized.

However, Davis said his legislation would address law enforcement's concerns that cannabis grown for medicinal purposes could be diverted for recreational use. Medical marijuana would be tracked from seed to sale under his proposal, Davis said.

The libertarian-leaning Davis was successful last year in getting legislation passed to legalize cannabidiol oil. That bill passed the Legislature, in part, because the oil is limited to having no more than 0.9 percent of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

However, supporters say the oil often is unavailable in South Carolina because it is illegal to produce it.

"Don't you think the next logical step is to provide for protocols and procedures for the growing of that plant here in South Carolina?" Davis rhetorically asked the rally Wednesday of pro-medical marijuana supporters.

While cannabidoil now is legal, April Pace said obtaining the oil requires traveling out of state or searching the Internet.

Davis' medical pot proposal outlines guidelines for licensing S.C. marijuana growers and dispensaries. Growers would be required to track all plants, products, packages, patients, waste, sales and returns with unique identification numbers.

Conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana use would include cancer, glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease, autism spectrum disorder, seizures and post-traumatic stress disorder.

If a physician decides that a substance based or derived from cannabis can help a patient, "why in the world is the state of South Carolina stepping into that relationship?" Davis asked the medical marijuana rally.

April Pace said her daughter's seizures affect her entire family. For example, she cannot work because she has to stay at home with Dixie.

"Our life revolves on if she's going to have a seizure at that moment."

Medical Marijuana In South Carolina

A proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, would legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina. The bill would:

▪ Allow a patient to obtain a registry identification card as qualifying for medical marijuana, provided they are a S.C. resident and have a medical recommendation signed by a licensed doctor. The patient would have to be 18 or older, or their parent or guardian would have to sign for them.

▪ Require a patient to complete an application form and pay a $50 fee. The applicant also would have to provide a copy of a SLED criminal records check showing they have not been convicted of a drug offense in the past five years or a copy of a valid S.C. concealed weapons permit, which requires a background check.

▪ Require the applicant to sign a statement agreeing not to knowingly divert marijuana to anyone not allowed to possess marijuana and acknowledging that diversion would be a felony.

$400 Million In State Revenue?

South Carolina state government could have $300 million in extra revenue, a state senator told the Senate Wednesday.

When filibustering a proposal to spend money from a state reserve account, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said the state could be told by the state Board of Economic Advisers next week that it will have $300 million in extra revenue.

How does Davis know?

Davis cited his former role in the governor's office, working for then-Gov. Mark Sanford, and said he had friends at the Economic Advisers.

Board chairman Chad Walldorf, another former aide to Sanford, said Wednesday he had not communicated the unannounced state surplus to Davis. The three-person Board of Economic Advisers must vote to confirm that surplus.

"Through April, we're $200 million ahead of estimates," Walldorf said.

That means lawmakers could add $200 million to this fiscal year's state budget and an additional $200 million to next year's budget.


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