S.C. lawmaker proposes legalizing medical marijuana use

January 15, 2007

Jim Davenport, Associated Press

A state senator whose first wife suffered a painful death wants the state to legalize medical marijuana use.

Sen. Bill Mescher of Pinopolis says the issue has been on his mind for about 20 years. "My first wife died of lung cancer - a long agonizing death," the Republican lawmaker said.

A doctor said marijuana might help ease the pain and nausea from chemotherapy, but South Carolina law wouldn't allow it, Mescher said.

People won't let dogs die with that kind of suffering, Mescher said. "It's been on my mind ever since," he said.

Mescher isn't optimistic about the bill's chance given the drug's reputation. "But it's a benign, benevolent help for people in agony or excruciating pain," he said.

Dr. Capers Hiott, a Wedgefield ear, nose and throat specialist, was the Legislature's doctor of the day Tuesday. He has his doubts about medical marijuana use.

"It would have to have tight controls," Hiott said. "I don't know that we're to the point it can be controlled."

And he's worried that people will begin advocating for using other currently illegal drugs to relieve pain. "There are a lot of things out there that can make you happy," Hiott said.

The South Carolina Medical Association hasn't taken a position on Mescher's bill, said Todd Atwater, the group's chief executive officer.

"There are physicians on both sides" of the issue, but the association hasn't gone through its formal process of coming up with a position, Atwater said.

The American Medical Association has adopted policies that call for more research into medical marijuana use and for administering marijuana's active ingredient without smoking it. Until the research is completed, the AMA advocates keeping it classified as a tightly controlled and dangerous drug that should not be legalized for sale or possession.

The Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project says 30 states have medical marijuana laws. Since 1996, 11 states, including Alaska, California, Hawaii and Maine - have enacted laws that remove criminal penalties for people who grow, possess or use marijuana with a doctor's approval.



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