With all the national hype over medical and, now, recreational marijuana legalization, some South Carolinians began pondering whether or not the Palmetto State should legalize the federally illegal drug.
But that conversation is a little late — by more than 30 years.
In 1980, the South Carolina legislature passed the South Carolina Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act. It was signed by then-Gov. Dick Riley, a Democrat. But the act needed funding, and the legislature never sent money its way — essentially killing the act through financial nullification.
But now, there’s talk of reviving the legislation.
On Thursday, throngs of media gathered at the Legislative Workshop for the Media in Columbia. There, Charleston City Paper reporter Corey Hutchins asked the question to a small lawmaker panel that has been on the lips of many people in every state that isn’t Colorado: Will South Carolina legalize recreational marijuana?
Colorado allowed citizens to begin making recreational marijuana purchases Jan. 1. And in a state with such libertarian leanings but still strong religious values — as Hutchins put it — would it happen here?
Many on the panel didn’t directly answer the question. But two lawmakers made light of the situation.
“We’re studying the issue privately,” Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, joked.
“Leon and me split a doobie on the way down here,” Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, added. Stavrinakis and Merrill commuted with each other to the meeting.
All joking aside, Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter, D-Orangeburg, spoke in favor of decriminalization, but Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, called the idea a “tall order.”
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, was not on the panel officially but weighed in on the topic from the sidelines. He proposed legislation in 2013 that would fund the 1980 act. On Thursday, he renewed his effort to fund it. A 2010 study by S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control found that the bill would serve about 30,000 people to the tune of more than $450,000, according to Rutherford.
Rutherford said he wasn’t sure how DHEC obtained those numbers, but that the bill warranted more study.
“It’s time,” he said. “We can fix that bill and allow doctors to prescribe marijuana in this state that is grown by farmers in this state.”
Rutherford closed his comments by saying he’s never imbibed the illegal drug. But he shared an anecdotal story of a woman finding out she had cancer while pregnant, and that marijuana helped her during chemotherapy treatments.