Effort to Legalize Medical Marijuana in SC Fails

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An attempt to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina failed in the South Carolina House Wednesday, even though state law already allows it. Representative Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, tried to amend a bill dealing with controlled substances to add marijuana to the list of drugs that doctors could prescribe.

“Right now, you can get oxycodone,” Rutherford says. “Oxycodone is one of the most powerful drugs made. You can get that with a doctor's prescription, but you can't get marijuana? So it doesn't make any sense.”

His amendment was ruled out of order, shooting down his effort, at least this year. “For those people that are out there and in pain, for those people that are in desperate need of help, I'm going to do whatever I can to try to make it a better law in South Carolina, since it's already legal,” he says.

That's right; it's already legal, at least technically.

A law passed back in 1980, says: SECTION 44-53-650. Director to obtain and distribute marijuana.

(a) The director shall obtain marijuana through whatever means he deems most appropriate consistent with federal law.

(b) The director shall cause such analyzed marijuana to be transferred to various locations throughout the State that provide adequate security as set forth in federal and state regulations for the purpose of distributing such marijuana to the certified patient in such manner as is consistent with federal law. The patient shall not be required to pay for such marijuana but the director may charge for ancillary medical services provided by the department to compensate the department for the cost, if any, of securing such marijuana, and providing it to the patient.

“The director” refers to the director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. DHEC has never obtained and distributed marijuana, though, for two reasons.

First is the clause in the state law that says “consistent with federal law.” Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, making distribution of it a federal offense.

Second is the cost. The state law says, “the patient shall not be required to pay for such marijuana.” A DHEC spokesman says an economic impact study found that there are more than 35,000 patients in the state with cancer or HIV/AIDS who would be likely recipients of medical marijuana. Growing it and distributing it would cost more than $474 million a year.

But Rep. Rutherford says his plan would be to license farmers in the state to grow marijuana and then sell it to patients, like other prescription drugs, eliminating that cost to the state.

Colorado and Washington state have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use. 16 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for medical use.

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