by JUDY GHANEM || During this season of rebirth, I was disheartened to wake up to an article written by the chief of SLED, Mark Keel, opposing Senate bill 150, which is now on the waiting list on the Senate floor in Columbia. I respect Chief Keel and everything he has done to protect our communities but am dismayed that he is misrepresenting this compassionate medical marijuana bill. A tightly regulated medical marijuana program should be lowest on his long list of law enforcement priorities.
I have been working with patients, caregivers, veterans, medical professionals and national organizations to support medical marijuana for the past several years. As a mother whose daughter is challenged with complex medical conditions, I began the journey simply as part of an attempt to keep my daughter alive and functioning to the best of her ability. Patients in South Carolina from all walks of life with the debilitating conditions listed in this bill should have the option of medical cannabis under a physician’s care, as is the case in 36 other states.
Congress’ decision to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug has made FDA approval virtually impossible. The Schedule I classification is supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value. Yet marijuana’s therapeutic value has been confirmed repeatedly and was acknowledged in the National Academy of Science report. This report stated that conclusive, substantial, or moderate evidence existed that cannabis or cannabinoids effectively treat several conditions. It is interesting how the same leaders say we need to defer to a federal agency, the FDA, on medical cannabis – yet they tout the state’s rights on other issues.
Until the federal classification is changed, it isn’t feasible to run the type of large-scale studies and trials necessary for the medicine to be prescribed.
South Carolina is very fortunate to have two leading scientists who have been working on cannabinoid research for many years, funded with federal grants from the NIH. Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti, vice president of research at the University of South Carolina, and Dr. Stephen Cutler, Dean of Pharmacy, spoke recently on their research and their support for S. 150. As Surfside Beach, S.C. pharmacist Daniel Bundrick recently stated, cannabis “NEVER should have been classified as a Schedule I.”
“It was political back then and not backed by science,” Bundrick said. “It is time to move forward. Physicians and pharmacists both need a real solution with almost no side effects compared to prescription options we have today. Also, this will be another tool to fight the opioid crisis, which is what the real danger is, and these addictive drugs are legal as a Class 2 Rx.”
In states with medical cannabis, surveys have shown it functions as an exit drug for many. In Minnesota, for example, more than 60 percent of intractable pain patients who had been using opioids were able to reduce or eliminate their use of these far-more-dangerous drugs after enrolling in the state’s medical cannabis program.
Chief Keel suggests this bill would hurt our youth. But his logic has a disconnect. There is no correlation between a tightly regulated medical marijuana program such as outlined in S. 150 and adolescents’ use of marijuana. This study showed that states with medical cannabis programs have a lower amount of marijuana use by youths.
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Keel’s portrayal of medical cannabis establishments is also at odds with the carefully crafted language of S. 150, and with the reality in states that have conservative medical cannabis laws. The S.C. Compassionate Care Act would require cannabis businesses have discreet, medical appearance – and would ban any products and labels appealing to minors. Certifying physicians and medical professionals working at dispensaries would be required to take continuing medical education courses on medical cannabis, and to advise patients on dosing, possible risks, and modes of administration.
The Epilepsy Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the South Carolina Podiatric Medical Association all support this bill. More than 70 percent of South Carolina voters believe medical cannabis should be allowed. While states including Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah have allowed this medical treatment option, South Carolina remains one of only 14 states that prohibits the medical use of cannabis.
Senate bill 150 is a narrowly crafted, conservative bill. It does not allow smoking or raw cannabis – and it is limited to severe, debilitating medical conditions. Suffering patients should not risk the indignity and trauma of arrest. This bill would finally allow patients to access lab-tested cannabis safely. It would also give veterans and others with severe injuries and illnesses a less dangerous alternative to opiates. Please contact your state senator today and ask them to vote “Yes” on Senate Bill 150. After six long years, we hope you agree the S.C. Compassionate Care Act deserves a vote on the floor. Now is South Carolina’s time to embrace positive change and to stand up for its vulnerable, not to live in fear.
Judy Ghanem is a mother from Murrells Inlet, S.C. Her daughter, Kira, suffers from a rare genetic disorder – one that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-based medication has proven effective at treating.
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