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Medical marijuana legislation in S.C. approved by senate subcommittee

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The South Carolina Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee amended and approved a medical marijuana bill Wednesday, sending it to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee for consideration.

However, advocates are concerned the bill will not move far enough through the legislature to get a floor vote in both chambers before this year's session ends.

With a crossover deadline fast approaching, the house version of the bill, H 3521, did not get the hearing many patients hoped for in the House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee yesterday.

"The subcommittee's vote has given thousands of patients and their families hope that the legislature has not forgotten them, and that relief may be in sight," said Janel Ralph, executive director of Compassionate South Carolina, whose eight-year-old daughter has a rare seizure disorder.

Dozens of patients and advocates from around South Carolina showed up at the statehouse on Tuesday urging lawmakers to allow similar legislation to move forward.

The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, known as S 212 in the Senate, would allow seriously ill patients to have access to a regulated medical marijuana system, as they do in 29 other states and the District of Columbia.

The subcommittee made a number of changes, including a clear ban on smoking medical cannabis and more specific requirements for physicians, along with greater involvement of law enforcement in oversight of those licensed to conduct business in the program.

Under the amended bill, South Carolina would have one of the most carefully regulated programs in the country.

Today's developments were welcome news for many, including Jeff Moore, former executive director of the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association.

"After returning home from war traumatized, my son found that only medical cannabis helped him regain the life taken from him by these horrifying experiences," said Moore, whose adult son treats post-traumatic stress disorder legally with medical cannabis in Michigan.

"We are all grateful for the work of this committee, and I hope this bill will help bring patients like my son back home," Moore said.

The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, introduced last year by Charleston Rep. Peter McCoy and Beaufort Sen. Tom Davis and, would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to access medical cannabis if their doctors recommend it.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control would regulate and license medical cannabis cultivation centers, processing facilities, dispensaries, and independent testing laboratories. The department would also issue registration cards to qualifying patients and their caregivers.

According to an October 2016 Winthrop Poll, 78 percent of South Carolina residents approve of making cannabis legal for medical purposes.

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