South Carolina Republicans plan to expand legal medical marijuana laws in 2015

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Kurt Wallace: This is Kurt Wallace and our guest today on Rare is South Carolina State Senator Tom Davis, Senator Davis thanks for being with us today.

Tom Davis: Good afternoon Kurt glad to be with you.

Kurt Wallace: What caught my attention was a Facebook post that you made and image of yourself on Thanksgiving saying I’m thankful cannabis oil is now available to S.C. kids who are suffering and you guys passed Julian’s Law earlier this year.

Tom Davis: That’s correct last January one of my constituents Harriet Hilton told me about her granddaughter named Mary Louis Swing a six year old girl who lives in Charleston, S.C. And, Harriet told me how her granddaughter suffers up to 80 to 90 seizures an hour. And, the pharmaceutical medicines that have been prescribed to her by MUSC in Charleston did not abate those seizures.

And Harriet told me that she had heard anecdotal evidence that a derivative or a non-psychoactive derivative of cannabis called CBD oil could be effective in helping individuals with intractable epilepsy.

So, that led me to file the bill with the general assembly last year and ultimately it was passed in both the senate and that house and signed by the Governor. And, made it legal in S.C. for a doctors to prescribe to their patients with epilepsy CBD oil to mitigate and to help out in regard to seizures.

Kurt Wallace: Another thing that has happened in S.C. too is the industrial hemp law?

Tom Davis: Correct and that was considered by the general assembly concurrently with the medical marijuana bill. I was the author of the medical marijuana bill and also a co-author of the hemp bill.

And, the industrial hemp legislation was made easier to pass in S.C. because of the Farm Act that was passed by the federal government and signed by President Obama in February of this year. And, it allowed industrial hemp with no more than 3% of THC to be grown and harvested and marketed. And on the strength of that we passed a law in S.C. that made it legal for S.C. growers to grow industrial hemp so long has it had that 3% or less THC component.

Kurt Wallace: Now it’s interesting that you’re a Republican. Nikki Haley is a Republican. This is something that you would think Democrats would be taking the lead on but in the South it looks like the Republicans are taking the lead.

Tom Davis: Well, in terms of being a Republican I define that with being for limited government, for constitutional government and for protecting individual liberty. I think that’s the nature of being a Republican.

So, when you’re talking about passing a law as we did in S.C. that allows cannabis to be used for epilepsy medication purposes and hemp you’re really recognizing individuals liberty. You’re recognizing personal freedom. And I think that’s frankly more consistent with Republican theory of limited government than it is Democrats who would be more inclined to more state control.

Kurt Wallace: People, may not realize that South Carolina has moved forward in this direction in legalizing medical marijuana but there’s also some moves to go even further in S.C. correct?

Tom Davis: Correct, part of the bill and the law that was signed last year the medical marijuana law. It not only allowed doctors to prescribe CBD oil to their patients with epilepsy, it also created a medical marijuana study committee that I have chaired — to hold hearings throughout the state of South Carolina.

And to look at additional therapeutic uses of cannabis and to report back to the general assembly when it reconvenes next January.  And we held hearings in the fall and summer — we held four of them; one in Columbia, one in Charleston, one in Greenville and one in Florence.

It’s been very educational, Kurt. And I’ve learned a lot more about the therapeutic uses of cannabis. I’m greatly encouraged by the progress that’s been made in other states. And, hopefully we can learn from what’s worked for them and not worked for them and get this available in South Carolinians hands as quickly as possible.

Kurt Wallace: What are some of the things that you’ve learned in these hearings?

Tom Davis: I think one thing is this is that cannabis and the CBD chemical structure is really and extension of what’s already found in the human body the endocannabinoid system in our body.

So, it has a number of therapeutic uses — for PTSD, for Autism, for pain management, epilepsy. Any number of ailments that pharmaceuticals has failed to cure we have received direct testimony corroborated by frankly physicians saying “yes we’ve seen this therapeutic benefit, we have seen this work where pharmaceuticals have failed.

So, I guess what I’ve learned is that this is really becoming more and more accepted in mainstream medicine. More and more doctors are recognizing and accepting the fact that cannabis and derivatives of cannabis can help their patients in a way that here before they may not have thought possible.

Kurt Wallace: Aside from the health benefits of cannabis and things that you’ve cited as examples. What about the economic value for South Carolinians with either cannabis medical cannabis, medical marijuana and then industrial hemp?

Tom Davis: 
Well, South Carolina has always been a very prominent agricultural state. Whether it’s tobacco, cotton or any number of things.  We have agriculture as one of our primary industries.

So, if you’re talking about opening up the market to cannabis and cannabis related medicines you’re really giving farmers in our state an opportunity to take there land and to make it productive. And, it’s a job creator. So, it’s a win win — it’s not only providing relief to people who are suffering, it is creating and economic opportunity for our farmers.

The only push back we’ve received so far has been from the law enforcement community. And the law enforcement community in South Carolina recently expressed concerns. In fact, issued a letter to the medical marijuana study committee saying that they opposed the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. That they felt like it would lead to making marijuana use more prevalent on a recreational basis — that cannabis that was grown for medical purposes might be diverted for recreational or other purposes.

So, we’ve got some work to do. We still need to educate. We still need to explain how this has worked in other states. We need to let these individuals who are benefiting from cannabis tell their stories. We have some hearts and minds yet to change here in S.C. Kurt.

Kurt Wallace: There is a libertarian strain that’s been growing in country, a lot of it in the Republican party. Do you think that’s had some influence on helping people to open their minds and look at marijuana for uses that they haven’t considered before?

Tom Davis: I absolutely think so. And you talk about Republicans. And when you say Republican here in South Carolina there are really two different kinds of Republicans. In the upstate you have a lot of social conservatives a lot from the evangelical community. And for them the predominant issues are social in nature, whether it’s abortion or prayer in school or same sex marriage or gambling. They essentially center around the social conservative aspect of republicanism.

On the coast, where I live, we tend to be a little bit more libertarian in regard to social values and more in terms of limited government and in favor of economic freedom and fiscal responsibility. So, as you see the Republican party become more of a party that champions liberty, more of a party whose purpose is to maximize individual freedom and that’s represented in the US Congress by individuals like Rand Paul.

The more you see Republicans talking in those terms the more open they are to initiatives like this. And, I think that’s all to the good. So, right now here in South Carolina we’ve got democrats and libertarian-republicans on board with maximizing the medicinal use of cannabis. But quite frankly you still have the social conservative aspect of the Republican party that needs to be persuaded.  And that’s our task for next session.

Kurt Wallace: Senator Tom Davis, thanks for being with us today on Rare.

Tom Davis: Sure, I enjoyed it Kurt. Thank you.

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