Pitts helps push toward medical marijuana

Pitts helps push toward medical marijuana

This story was produced for the Greenwood Index-Journal, which has paid for sole publication rights. The Index-Journal is a member of a legislative reporting partnership between the Carolina Reporter and the South Carolina Press Association.

By Deborah Swearingen

South Carolina might never be Colorado or Oregon, where recreational marijuana is legal, but with the introduction of two marijuana bills this session, the state might have taken steps toward looking a little like California, which legalized medicinal marijuana almost two decades ago.

Late last month, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, introduced a bill that excludes cannabidiol, which contains only trace amounts of the THC normally found in marijuana, from the definition of marijuana.

The bill came out of a legislative study committee, which Davis co-chaired, that aimed to research the benefits of various forms of cannabis when used for medicinal purposes.

 Then in December, before the study committee finished, Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, introduced a bill to allow for the limited use of medical marijuana.
The bill, co-sponsored by Greenwood-area lawmaker Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, designates medically appropriate circumstances for using marijuana, including cancer, epilepsy and other chronic or debilitating medical conditions.

“If it helps one individual relieve the symptoms of cancer or one child with seizures, then I don’t see how anyone could object to it,” said Pitts, a former law enforcement officer.

The bill, also called the Put Patients First Act, has since moved to the House Judiciary Committee, where it awaits a hearing.

Pitts, who also sponsored a bill to decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, said he’s seen a lot of positive response for the medical marijuana bill, even from highly conservative legislative members, which he found a bit surprising.

However, Pitts said, he does worry about people abusing the system.

 “The only problem I have with the bill is that some people may be using it as a way just to get recreational marijuana,” he said.

Sen. Billy O’Dell, R-Abbeville, joins Pitts in his support.

“I see no problem if it can be used as a tool to help people,” O’Dell said.

But he added he would prefer to wait until the bill makes it to the Senate before making a comment specifically on the Put Patients First Act.

Medicinal marijuana supporters acknowledge it won’t be an easy sell in South Carolina. Whereas laws have quickly shifted to legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in several states, South Carolina must take “baby steps,” said Wayne Borders, president of Columbia activist group NORML.

This difference, he said, is fairly indicative of the way different regions view change.

Borders said in South Carolina activists are required to work through the Legislature to enact change. In states such as Colorado and Oregon, residents can introduce referendums through citizen initiatives, but here they must have a lawmaker sponsor the bill for them.

He doesn’t view the difference in legislative process negatively, though.

“I think it makes it interesting because it gives us more incentive to reach across the aisle,” Borders said.

Pitts said he’s received many supportive emails and phone calls from his constituency, but adds he has no way of estimating how many Greenwood residents are in support of legalization.

The Put Patients First Act sits behind a list of other bills that need to be read and moved to subcommittees, Pitts said.

“I have not been told that there will be a hearing on it any time in the near future,” he said.

But if medical marijuana supporters want the laws to change, it will have to happen soon. The session ends June 4.


Top photo credit to O’Dea at WikiCommons.