A state legislator has introduced a bill for the upcoming session that would no longer make it a crime to carry one ounce or less of marijuana in South Carolina.
Some lawmakers have tried to ease up South Carolina drug laws in recent years, such as successful efforts to allow the use of marijuana extract oils for some severe child epilepsy cases, and the state Democratic Party asking its voters if they would support broader medical marijuana legalization. But what makes this particular proposal notable from legalization efforts in other states is that it’s being pushed by a former police officer who calls frequent marijuana users “lethargic” and believes employers should still be able to drug test new applicants.
“If we took money that’s targeted towards marijuana, especially a small amount, and put that towards methamphetamine… which creates a much greater problem across the board, I think we’d have a much greater impact and much better public service,” State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, told South Carolina Radio Network.
The bill prefiled for the South Carolina House session that begins in January would still allow an officer to issue a citation for possession of less than 28 grams of marijuana. But the subject could no longer be arrested if the law were to pass.
Pitts said the libertarian in him believes there are more important issues for cash-strapped law enforcement agencies to focus their attention. He also said he did not want to see adults struggle to find a job because they have a possession arrest from their teen years on their criminal record. But the former lawman said he would still discourage his own children and grandchildren from using the drug.
“A person who is a habitual user of marijuana is not going to make a good employee, so don’t hire them,” he said. “They’re lethargic and I wouldn’t hire them… You can still drug test and you don’t have to hire them.”
The bill stands little chance of passing the legislature, largely because of opposition from law enforcement leaders (notably State Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel) and religious groups.
“It seems to be problematic,” South Carolina Sheriffs Association director Jarrod Bruder said. “If it becomes a civil offense to do some of these things, it may open up a door to something that may be more difficult for us to enforce trafficking laws.” Keel told Media General that he’s not aware of anyone ever going to prison for such a small amount.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, has joined the bill as a cosponsor. “I feel like its time has come,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “The time has come for the government to get out of our lives as far as things like marijuana are concerned… Starting off with medical marijuana, going through decriminalization, I think these are necessary steps in the recognition that marijuana is simply not the drug that we’ve been told it was all these years.”