Proponents of the legalization of medical cannabis in South Carolina are hoping a new strategy will convince lawmakers to support their efforts.
In addition to the relief many suffering South Carolinians would likely receive from cannabis, the industry could be a big boost for the state's economy.
"I have seen the baby buggies, and I have seen the wheelchairs at the State House, and they're not getting anywhere," said medical cannabis advocate Rosie Craig at a recent event in Bluffton. "What we need is a business group to say, 'There's a $13 billion medical marijuana industry knocking at our door.'"
To that end, Craig started a trade organization called Healthy Carolina Now, which brings together business leaders to promote the legalization of medical cannabis through the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act.
For the past three years, the Healthy Carolina Now president and founder has advocated for patients who want legal access to medical marijuana.
Championed by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, the Compassionate Care Act would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes for certain medical conditions. If the bill becomes law, cannabis would not be legal to smoke, but it would be legal to consume through oils, patches, topicals, pills and edibles.
The bill passed 5 to 1 in a Senate subcommittee in March and is scheduled to go to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee April 25.
According to S.C. Compassionate Care Alliance president and founder Jill Swing, the committee heard six hours of testimony on April 11 from patients, business leaders, law enforcement and the members of the medical community. She said another committee hearing is scheduled for April 18, when members will discuss potential amendments to the bill.
Sen. Davis has been fighting for legal access to medical marijuana in South Carolina since 2014 and has run into one roadblock after another. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the South Carolina Medical Association and state attorney general Alan Wilson have all spoken out against the legislation.
"All the statistics, all the rhetoric, all of that pales in comparison to meeting somebody who has been impacted by this, hearing somebody's story about what they were going through before and what they are like now," Davis said.
Additionally, Davis said at the meeting, while the potential economic boon would be positive, it would simply be a bonus to doing the right thing for patients in need.
The senator said the Compassionate Care Act reflects South Carolinians' values, empowers doctors to get medicine into the hands of patients who truly need it, and builds in protections against fraud and abuse.
"After two years of intense work with patient advocacy groups, we started to realize that the business leaders of South Carolina had not yet been heard on this issue," Craig said at the April 11 meeting. "Our businesses represent a powerful voice that could help patients and help move the state forward from an economic development standpoint."
Healthy Carolina Now treasurer Catherine Harrison Cobb said quite a few farmers in the Lowcountry and throughout the state have expressed interest in joining the trade organization. So have pharmacists, extractors and vape shop owners.
"This would be a wonderful opportunity to bring local farmers ... and give them an opportunity to get in on growing hemp and possibly medical marijuana," Cobb said.
"This bill has the potential of creating a multibillion-dollar industry for South Carolina," Craig said.
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.