Faith leaders endorse South Carolina medical marijuana bill

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina faith leaders voiced their support Wednesday for legalizing medical marijuana, saying it is a necessary step toward improving the quality of life for seriously ill people.

The diverse group of clergy held a news conference at the Statehouse to push for passage of the Compassionate Care Act. The legislation introduced in the House and Senate has bipartisan backing and would allow patients to purchase up to 2 ounces of marijuana or its equivalent every two weeks if authorized by their doctor.

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Legalizing medical marijuana transcends both religion and politics, said Baptist minister and Democratic Rep. Terry Alexander of Florence. "Folks are beginning to see it. ... It's not a religious thing. It's not a drug thing. It is a relief thing to me, basically."

The fact two conservative Republicans introduced the legislation in both chambers is indicative of the progress being made on the issue in South Carolina, Alexander said.

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"Three or four years ago that would not have happened. That was a Democratic thing," he said. "I don't believe if they didn't think that they could get the vote, they would put it forward."

Columbia Rabbi Eric Mollo said lawmakers have a significant opportunity through the legislation to offer a better quality of life for those in pain.

"It's not a can we do it, it's a must, we must do it," Mollo said.

Democratic Rep. Ivory Thigpen, also a Baptist minister, said the key to passing the legislation is education and compassion.

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"As we look to pass this legislation, I want you to think if it were your family member that was suffering, if that was your family member in debilitating pain, and there was something within your means to care for them, then you would by all means have compassion," Thigpen said.

Members of the Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee approved the bill Wednesday morning after adopting some changes to the bill. It now goes to the full committee for discussion.