COLUMBIA, S.C. - A state senator says legalizing marijuana for medicinal use in South Carolina would empower doctors to better serve their patients.
Medical professionals, military veterans and other medical marijuana advocates met Tuesday at the statehouse to support lawmakers' efforts to pass the Compassionate Care Act. The bill would allow cannabis use for terminal, debilitating medical conditions such as cancer or chronic diseases that could be treated with opioids. It would allow patients to purchase up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana or its equivalent every two weeks, if prescribed by a doctor.
Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Tom Davis said he met with members of the medical community and law enforcement to ensure that the proposed legislation includes clear language drawing the line between recreational and medicinal use.
"This is a very conservative, strictly regulated, tightly drawn bill that empowers physicians under very controlled circumstances to authorize cannabis use by patients for very specific conditions," the Beaufort lawmaker said. "This could be an example of how socially conservative states can authorize a physician to do what they think is the patient's best interest and does not lead to recreational.
Family practitioner Dr. Monnie Singleton said lawmakers should question the merits of prohibiting the medical use of marijuana and decide if the ban outweighs the benefits for his patients.
"I hope that this bill is passed so that I can no longer have to send my patients to Florida and other states to receive treatment," Singleton said.
Purple Heart recipient and Marine Corps veteran Steven Diaz said he's seen first-hand the damaging effects of opioid addiction among military personnel recovering from combat injuries and said he feared the same if he took that route. Diaz said he wants to be an advocate for other veterans who suffer from PTSD and debilitating injuries and want to have options for medical treatment.
"I've had to lay friends to rest because they didn't have the option of something different," Diaz said. "South Carolina, being the state that we are - being a veteran friendly state - we should provide those options to them, and that's all that we're asking for."
Dr. John C. Ropp III, board chairman for the South Carolina Medical Association, said in a statement to The Associated Press that a physician's main concern is medical safety and efficacy, and until wide-scale clinical testing of medical marijuana occurs, it is dangerous for the state's legislative body to ask physicians to be gatekeepers for marijuana in the state.
"While in the midst of an ongoing and deeply tragic opioid crisis, itself full of unintended consequences that affect us all, we would do well to avoid another substance crisis," Ropp said. "We have a chance to prevent poor legislation from passing and to work on real, safe, and reasonable solutions now. The physicians of South Carolina stand ready to help - we're always on call."
The legislation is currently in a Senate committee.
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