Medical Marijuana Gets a Chance and a Hearing in South Carolina

Recent political developments show that South Carolina is giving progress a chance in the form of laws regarding industrial hemp and medical marijuana. On June 2, Gov. Nikki Haley signed Senate Bill 839, the legalization of industrial hemp, and Senate Bill 1035, the legalization of CBD oil for patients with certain forms of epilepsy.

Legalization advocates may have lauded the passing of these bills; however, the legislators backing the bills knew their work had just begun. As outlined in the text of SB 1035, now known as Act 221, the state needed “to create a study committee to develop a plan for the sale and use of medical marijuana.”

With Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Jenny Horne as the co-chairs of South Carolina’s Medical Marijuana Study Committee, the state is poised to benefit from the candid and compassionate conversations that are taking place between legislators, citizens, veterans, academics, parents and patients.

Davis has proposed a total of four meetings to take place across the state in order for the committee to be able to make recommendations to the General Assembly in January 2015. The inaugural meeting took place on  Sept. 3, in Columbia, SC. Considering it was the first meeting, it was necessary for the committee to address its purpose and give overviews for the industrial hemp and CBD bills.

While this necessary part of the discussion may have limited the amount of comments from the audience, that was not the case for the second meeting held Oct. 2, at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

The committee made time for more than 10 people to give testimony. Dr. Robert Melamede, President Emeritus of Cannabis Science, was the first witness to speak before the crowded room. Dr. Melamede discussed specific details regarding the endocannabinoid system, which gave the discussion the scientific legitimacy it needed. Then, in simple terms, Dr. Melamede stated, “You don’t need narcotics for most chronic pain; you need cannabis. It affects all of your nerves in a way that minimizes pain.”

Testimony from Logan Miccichi of Charleston, put a face to the issue by demonstrating that the CBD oil bill needs to include other qualifying conditions because his prescription drugs have failed to treat his narcolepsy and intractable migraine. “I’m just in a lot of pain; I’ve run out of options. I don’t know if [medical marijuana] will help, but I’d just like to try it.”

The pain in Miccichi’s voice was palpable and audience members were visibly affected by his testimony. Not all potential patients have the ability to advocate for themselves. Janel Ralph’s 5-year-old daughter Harmony suffers from lissencephaly, a rare brain formation also known as “smooth brain” that is accompanied by seizures.

Harmony does not qualify for the proposed clinical trial under the current CBD bill because the trial is limited to patients who have Dravet Syndrome, and within that, the trial is limited to five to 10 participants. “I would request that the bill be broadened to include not just one class of disorders, as this is discriminatory at best,” Ralph said to the committee.

Ralph sounded hopeful after the meeting concluded. “The legislators and the committee are actually now starting to see the need that South Carolina has for cannabis, cannabis oil and cannabis products, in-state cultivation is a necessity as well as broadening the bill … and opening it for all ailments and not just epilepsy.”

Ralph isn’t alone in her optimism. “I’m incredibly encouraged by individuals coming forward with their stories and there is nothing more compelling than to hear somebody is suffering and to hear that there is something that can alleviate that suffering that is being prevented in South Carolina,” Davis, the committee’s co-chair, said.

Even citizens of South Carolina who simply came to support the legalization movement were impressed by the meeting’s success. “The citizens that really need this stuff are starting to come out … they have such compelling stories and they’re going to do what they need to do to get legal access to this medicine,” Greg Bayne, a resident of Charleston, said.

South Carolina’s Medical Marijuana Study Committee has two more meetings scheduled before the end of the year. On  Nov. 13, the committee will meet in Greenville; then, on  Dec. 4, the committee will meet in Florence.

“I hope that the same passion, the same individuals, those same anecdotes and stories and actual life experiences are told up in Greenville,” Davis said after the meeting in Charleston. “Because when you get down to brass tacks in politics, there are many in the upstate who are social conservatives that have a very pejorative and negative view of marijuana that dates back to the 60s and 70s; and despite all of the science and despite all of the medical technology … they still hold onto those views and so the way to break through is to have what happened today occur; individuals coming forward telling stories. There really is no defense to a state denying relief to an individual when you put it in that context,” Davis concluded.

If the committee meeting in Charleston is any indication, it is likely that the medical marijuana movement in South Carolina is gaining momentum that crosses partisan lines. The Medical Marijuana Study Committee and the citizens of this state are the movement’s greatest hope for ensuring that progress is achieved so patients can find the relief they need.

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