Wednesday, June 13, 2018

S.C. Democrats overwhelmingly supported medical marijuana on the ballot Tuesday. Experts weigh in on what that really means.

The prospect of going green in a red state

Posted by Adam Manno on Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 1:15 PM

click to enlarge Results from last night's Democratic ballot question on the legalization of medical marijuana in South Carolina. - S.C. ELECTION COMMISSION
  • S.C. Election Commission
  • Results from last night's Democratic ballot question on the legalization of medical marijuana in South Carolina.
Last night, S.C. Democratic voters overwhelmingly threw their support behind the legalization medical marijuana in the Palmetto State.

According to the state election results, about 82 percent of Democratic primary voters, around 200,255 people, voted yes on the following question:
Do you support passing a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?
Less than 18 percent of voters voted "no." The question was only available to those who chose to vote in the Democratic primary. Republicans had a different set of questions, which gauged support for closed primaries and the Trump-backed tax plan.

Just this year, a bill passed through committees in both the S.C. House and Senate that created legal allowances for medical marijuana in specific cases. The "S.C. Compassionate Care Act" would have allowed doctors to prescribe patients suffering from conditions such as cancer, HIV, PTSD, autism, or any condition that causes debilitating pain with medical marijuana and marijuana-infused products.

Despite initial support, the bills didn't make it anywhere before the legislative session ended.
Sixty-one percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, according to a Pew poll released earlier this year. Last night's vote proved that pot used for medical purposes is supported by an even bigger percentage among South Carolina's Democrats.

So what does this mean?

We spoke to two marijuana policy experts and one marijuana researcher about why the Democratic Party asked this question, what this vote means for the future of medical marijuana, and whether this will eventually open the doors to legal recreational weed in South Carolina.

Scott Weldon

click to enlarge Weldon - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Weldon
Executive Director of Lowcountry NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws)

City Paper: What is the significance of this question?

Weldon: For the second time in our state’s history, Democratic voters [had] an opportunity to express their opinion on this issue in an official capacity without public scrutiny. Most voters in South Carolina understand that a public statement in support of any form of marijuana legalization could subject them to unwanted and unnecessary harassment by law enforcement, employers, and others. By answering the question on a ballot, voters are able to state their opinions without fear of retribution.

CP: What do the overwhelmingly positive results do for the future of marijuana laws, if anything?

Weldon: It will send a strong message to state lawmakers that ending the prohibition of medical marijuana is an issue that voters want the legislature to address. Considering South Carolina does not have a process in place for ballot initiatives, we’re left to the whim or mercy of our legislators.

CP: Do you think this response will help move the needle in terms of marijuana reform in S.C.?

Weldon: Absolutely. As someone who has been working on this issue for several years now, I can assure you that state lawmakers want to know where their constituents stand with regard to supporting marijuana law reforms before they will have the confidence to take action. I'm certain the results from [Tuesday's] election will be the catalyst for future conversation about this issue.

Donald L. McCune, Jr.

click to enlarge McCune - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • McCune
Attorney with the McCune Law Firm whose practice includes areas of regulation and taxation of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is found in the cannabis plant and is used to treat everything from epilepsy to anxiety

City Paper: What is the state of marijuana laws in S.C. right now?

McCune: It's a very sticky part of the law right now, because most of the stuff is federally illegal. Even though industrial-type cannabis is approved in South Carolina, not all CBD is approved. It has to have a low level of THC, so there are folks treading on dangerous waters, and it’s my hope to educate everyone so they can operate within the law and help get patients the medicine they need.

CP
: What does Tuesday's vote do?

McCune: Largely, it just confirms what we already knew from the polls. Between 60 and 70 percent of people have constantly opted for medical cannabis. The Democrats put it out as a poll question to sort of put an exclamation point. It’s just a way to shine a spotlight, for those still hesitant in the legislature, that this something citizens are behind.
CP: Do you think this will change anyone's mind?

McCune: I think that tolerance increases with education. I went to my first National Cannabis Bar Association meeting not knowing what to expect, thinking maybe there would be some aging hippies there and some younger hipsters, but there were people there trying to solve a complicated problem: How do you get something in the federal drug schedule into the hands of people who need it? You meet moms with kids with intractable epilepsy, you meet people with chronic pain, and you see the difference it makes in their lives, and I think that’s what’s gonna change it. This [ballot question] is just another way of educating the public on it.

Dr. Jonathan Halford

click to enlarge Halford - MUSC
  • MUSC
  • Halford
MUSC researcher who ran clinical trials using CBD on patients with two types of epilepsy for Greenwich Biosciences

City Paper: Do you see Tuesday's vote changing much of anything in the legislative or popular consciousness of medical marijuana?

Halford: Everyone's gonna know that this is a narrow sample of the population that votes straight-line Democrat on Election Day. Not a centrist that will pick and choose, but the very most Democratic-thinking people in the state. Everyone knows they're the type of people who support marijuana, not just medically, but recreationally as well, so I don’t think it's gonna move the needle.

CP: Would medical marijuana laws in S.C. affect your work in any way?

Halford: The policies that regulate what I can and cannot do in the area of cannabinoids are dictated purely by federal regulations, so state regulations are irrelevant. If there was a change in federal regulation, it would make doing research with those compounds for me much easier. Because of the current scheduling of cannabinoids, we can’t keep the research compounds in our investigational pharmacy at MUSC. Because our investigational pharmacy is not approved to handle that class of compound based on federal regulation. The only place that I can keep the cannabinoid compounds is in my office.
CP: In your office? How does that work?

Halford: I have to keep it in a locked room, in a huge 200-pound safe that’s bolted to a concrete floor. DEA agents came in and inspected it before I was even allowed to use it.

CP: How does the federal scheduling of marijuana affect your research?

Halford: There’s lots more paperwork we have to fill out. Every time we use the compound for research, [and] every time we dispense it. There’s way more paperwork than other studies involving other medication of other classes. it’s a huge burden of infrastructure and of paperwork and of everything because of the DEA scheduling.

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