SC medical marijuana bill likely to be defeated without debate

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South Carolina's medical marijuana legalization bill is heading to likely defeat without getting a debate in the state Senate.

Despite the discussion being scheduled for Tuesday, opposition to the proposal among lawmakers is becoming increasingly clear, with Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Myrtle Beach) announcing he intends to block the debate from even starting.

Under Senate rules, one senator has the power to hold up discussions. It would require three-fifths of senators to vote to override the move. It's unclear if enough senators support the divisive bill, but even its supporters contend that it isn't likely.

Hembree said he was concerned that medical marijuana had not been approved by the FDA and thought this bill was a gateway effort to legalizing recreational marijuana.

"Do we want to be a state that approves the safe recreational use of marijuana? I'm okay to have that debate," he said. "That, to me, is an honest debate."

He added that he did not support recreational marijuana either.

Legalizing medical marijuana has broad support in the Palmetto State and support or opposition to the measure does not break along usual political lines. Sen. Stephen Goldfinch (R-Murrells Inlet) said he would've supported the bill, though he wasn't surprised it was blocked. Last week, a Democrat serving on the Medical Affairs Committee said he opposed it.

The bill's author, Republican Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) passionately defended what he called the most conservative legalization bill in the country, which severely limited who could get access to the drug and how much they'd be able to obtain at once from a pharmacist.

"The limited thing we want here is to allow doctors to give patients this relief if in that doctor's professional opinion it could be a benefit," he argued, adding that almost 40 other states have legalized and/or decriminalized marijuana, including conservative Mississippi.

Hembree said he expected legalization, even recreationally, to happen in the future, but from actions taken by the federal government.

"We don't make a decision about which cancer drugs are good for you," he said. "Why we're wandering into this other substance... I think is not a wise use of our power."

On the other hand, pro-medical marijuana activists said Davis' bill didn't go far enough, specifically citing the lack of ability to grow one's own plants and the severe limits on prescription amounts.

"The 1,600 milligrams per two weeks. I mean, that's not going to save anyone from whatever they're going through, especially... a cancer patient," Crystal Beattie, who moved to Colorado from South Carolina to obtain medical marijuana, said.

Beattie added that prescriptions for the most severe disease cases could be one thousand milligrams per day.

Still, Beattie said something was better than nothing.

"Patients need fair access, but you got to start somewhere," she said.

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