COLUMBIA, S.C. — Nearly a dozen bills to legalize marijuana in some form have been introduced in the South Carolina Legislature.
Those measures have gained public support, according to recent polls, which show 70 to 75 percent of people support legalization for medical reasons.
That prompted those opposed to legalization to hold a news conference Wednesday in Columbia.
"This is an important issue and we need to think long and hard before we dive head first into it," Attorney General Alan Wilson said.
In the Statehouse lobby, Wilson was flanked by doctors in white lab coats, lawmakers and dozens of sheriffs from across the state.
Wilson called the drug dangerous and addictive, and claimed other states that have legalized it have suffered.
"One in six children who use marijuana will become addicted," Wilson said. "In every state that has allowed marijuana for recreational and medical purposes, the black market has grown in that state, not shrunk."
Listening in the audience of reporters and lawmakers was 27-year-old Mack Hudson, who is in a wheelchair.
"Why are they punishing the people that could benefit from it?" Hudson said.
Hudson was paralyzed in a car accident at 16 years old, and lives in pain every day.
"I could take all kinds of opioids every day to help me, but I choose not to. They've only made my life worse," he said.
Hudson has traveled to Colorado and California to be prescribed medical marijuana.
He wants to see it legalized in South Carolina to help people who struggle with daily pain.
Among the law enforcement officers who stood with Wilson opposing legalization were several local sheriffs, including Alex Underwood, of Chester County, Barry Faile, of Lancaster County, and Kevin Tolson, of York County.
Tolson said they are sympathetic to people who suffer from health issues but want to see federal government action on the issue first, including more studies.
"If it's medicine it's medicine. The FDA [Food and Drug Administration] can study it. They can say what the medical purposes are, and I think you'd see movement on the law enforcement side changing," Tolson said.
Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller called legalizing medical marijuana "reckless and dangerous."
The Compassion Care Act, which is one of the bills introduced in previous years, is back this year.
Supporters say it crosses party lines and its time has come in South Carolina. Thirty-three other states already have some form of legal marijuana.
However, those opposed to legalization said the Compassionate Care Act isn't about compassion or about medical marijuana, but a step toward allowing full, everyday use for all.
There's no word yet on when any of these bills could come up for a vote.
In last year's session, several bills passed committees, but did not reach a vote on the floor.
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