David Lauderdale

Medical marijuana a quixotic tilt for straitlaced Beaufort senator

Sen. Davis: SC's medical cannabis law leaving out people in need

In an interview with The Island Packet & Beaufort Gazette on Friday, May 20, 2016, Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) explained why he's so passionate about changing South Carolina's current medical cannabis law -- which he authored two years ago, but sa
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In an interview with The Island Packet & Beaufort Gazette on Friday, May 20, 2016, Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) explained why he's so passionate about changing South Carolina's current medical cannabis law -- which he authored two years ago, but sa

Call it reefer madness.

Sen. Tom Davis, the straitlaced Republican with the looks of a Boy Scout, stands before his colleagues in Columbia at the start of each Senate session and morphs into Cheech and Chong.

Or at least that’s the way it seems by the reaction the Beaufort attorney got this session in his new push to expand medical marijuana use in South Carolina.

The S.C. Medical Marijuana Program Act sponsored by Davis and Orangeburg Democrat Brad Hutto got shot down in committee this year.

It’s my job to educate. Over time, we’re going to get there.

Sen. Tom Davis

It was opposed by the chief of the State Law Enforcement Division and the S.C. Medical Association. Not to mention Baptists and socially conservative Upstate legislators.

SLED thinks it’s a slippery slope to recreational pot use.

Some physicians don’t want to recommend something that is against federal law.

Others say it hasn’t been proven that cannabis is legitimate medicine.

And one said it will lead to children dying while their stoned parents sit on the couch watching TV and eating all the food in the house.

So why does the choir boy look-alike waste his breath — and political capital — on the weed?

‘To educate’

For starters, it’s not the same weed that — with all due respect to our chief law enforcement officer — has already slipped down every slope in the state.

What Davis is pushing is tight control — electronic tracking from seed to sales — of licensed, verified, documented medical marijuana that only a doctor could prescribe. There would be licensed dispensaries and a visit to a doctor. All told, it would cost more than pot on the street. So much for the recreational bonanza.

I saw how a lot of patients are having to move to other states.

Sen. Tom Davis

For a libertarian like Davis, this is a lot of government control.

Yet, right after the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each day in the Senate, Davis asks for an allotted five minutes to address a “point of personal interest.”

No, it doesn’t look like Jerry Garcia and the Deadheads. While his colleagues mill around talking to each other, Davis holds up a large picture of a South Carolinian suffering from any of a long list of ailments that could be relieved with medicinal marijuana. He reads verbatim their story.

And he posts it on Facebook, getting hundreds of shares and likes and comments praising his courage.

With his recent record of filibustering, it’s a wonder Davis has time to inhale. But he says he’s not blowing smoke; he’s planting seeds.

“It’s my job to educate,” he said. “Over time, we’re going to get there.”

Davis’ education started two years ago. Sam Scoville, one of his law partners at Harvey & Battey in Beaufort, heard a sad tale at his Rotary club. A member had a granddaughter with epilepsy and cerebral palsy whose seizures — up to 1,000 a day — could be greatly reduced by medicinal marijuana. But she could not get it in South Carolina by law.

Davis pushed a bill to help her, and it passed in 2014. Now, South Carolinians with certain types of epilepsy can legally use an oil derived from marijuana.

The bill also created a committee that traveled the state to hear other stories.

“I met more of these families — other kids, soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Davis said. “I talked to their doctors. I saw how a lot of patients are having to move to other states.”

Now he has a queue of 40 personal stories from hurting South Carolinians whose medical care is being dictated by legislators, not their doctors.

He said he wants other senators to see what he sees. He wants them to feel what he feels when legislation directly improves tortured lives.

Marijuana champion

Political capital is a funny thing.

Davis said it withers away if you don’t spend it.

He said he’s not only spending political capital to help ailing South Carolinians, he’s building it at the same time.

“What I have found is that if you are well-educated on an issue, and put time into it, and become an authority on it, and earn the trust of your colleagues by working with stakeholders and coming up with something they can agree to, you build political capital,” Davis said.

Owning the medical marijuana issue could actually help with other matters locals are more familiar with, like the Jasper port, equitable spending on universities or changing the way road-spending decisions are made, he said.

But when it comes to medical marijuana, Davis said, the people are already way ahead of the legislators.

Davis points to a 2014 advisory question on a state Democratic primary ballot that showed 75 percent in favor of legal medical marijuana. In a 2014 Winthrop University poll in the state, 72 percent of responders thought doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes. Last April, a Winthrop poll of likely voters in this year’s Republican presidential primary showed 74 percent favoring medical marijuana.

Perhaps the people can see through the phony arguments. They know that other drugs are a bigger problem, like the opioids and benzodiazepines that reek with side-effects and are so addictive. Alcohol is killing us. But medical marijuana is the problem?

The mother of the child who got Davis involved in the issue told me she is going to need oils with a higher level of THC than current law allows. And she wants safe and tested products sold in the free market through a dispensary system. All of which the new bill would enable.

It would also allow for medicinal marijuana to be smoked and to be prescribed for a wider range of ailments.

“My daughter has been high on pharmaceuticals for seven years,” said Jill Swing of Charleston. “So what if she gets a little high on marijuana, which is far more effective and has less side-effects?”

She said she may yet have to move to a state with more compassionate lawmakers.

Call it reefer madness.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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