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In 1980, the South Carolina Medical Marijuana Research Act was signed into law. It instructed the Director of DHEC (the Department of Health and Environmental Control) to distribute medical marijuana to patients suffering from glaucoma, epilepsy and cancer. Unfortunately, a source for the medical marijuana was never identified, nor were funds appropriated in order to enact the program. This resulted in the program dying… along with many South Carolina patients over the years.
Fast forward to 2013. By then several states had passed laws allowing the use of medical marijuana for varying medical conditions. Colorado was one of those states and it was there that the life of a little girl named Charlotte was saved by using low-THC cannabis to treat her life-threatening seizures. The face of medical marijuana was changed instantly when CNN’s medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta shared her story with the world.
Epilepsy is the mis-firing of neurons in the brain that can manifest in varying physical responses depending upon the type of seizure and where in the brain the mis-firing occurs. Pharmaceutical drugs successfully treat about 2/3 of those who are diagnosed with the condition. For the remaining 1/3, it can be devastating, even life-threatening. According to the CDC, approximately 5.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with epilepsy. Many of them are children. That’s a lot of people in desperate need of a cure. So when the Sanjay Gupta piece called “Weed” aired, it received a great deal of attention. People were flocking to Colorado in order to access the same type of cannabis used by the little girl in the story. Others, mostly parents of children with the disease, started reaching out to their state legislators, asking them to create laws that would allow them access to low-THC cannabis that was high in another compound of the marijuana plant, CBD, or cannabidiol. South Carolina was no exception. In early 2014, Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) heard the story from a grandmother in his district whose 6-year old granddaughter was having 800-1000 seizures daily. He wanted to help
and so he looked at the outdated law from 1980. Senator Davis knew that it’s easier to amend an existing law than to create a new one, so he introduced a bill that would take DHEC out of the equation and allow access to CBD for epilepsy patients. Representative Jenny Horne (R-Summerville) introduced a companion bill in the House the following week and together the two of them worked diligently in both chambers until the bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley on June 2nd, 2014.
Unfortunately, once again, the bill did not identify a source for the marijuana (now specifically CBD) the state gave SC epilepsy patients the authority to possess. Since it was federally illegal to cross state lines with it, and most states where it was legal had residency requirements, patients were forced to turn to the black market to get what they needed for their loved ones. This meant that they had to rely on sources that were not always reputable or honest. Desperate parents and patients were often taken advantage of.
From this small opening in the legalization of medical cannabis, the need for a more comprehensive program, which would include in-state cultivation and distribution, became instantly apparent.
Shortly after the 2015-16 session began, Senator Davis introduced a comprehensive bill that he hoped would provide a safe, reliable source of medical cannabis and expand the program to include more allowable conditions. Once again, Representative Horne introduced a House companion as the duo hoped to repeat the same success they had
achieved with their CBD bill. The bills received some traction as they both passed subcommittees but then stalled in full committees for varying reasons. Law enforcement pushed back vehemently. It was also an election year so no one wanted to vote for something that might be considered “controversial” while other legislators were still living in the age of Harry Anslinger lies and propaganda.
Fortunately, the stage has now been set thanks to the hard work by advocates and legislators who understand and support the need for a medical cannabis program in South Carolina. It would seem that success is just around the corner. Some of the “old-guard” politicians lost
their seats to new, more progressive lawmakers during primaries. Advocates, such as the founding members of SC Compassion, have worked tirelessly to politely educate members of the General Assembly who will have a new medical cannabis bill before them in the 2017-18 session. We hope you will come and join us in our legislative efforts this coming session to help pass Senator Tom Davis’s comprehensive medical marijuana bill.
The following links lead you to the current bill of legislation information: