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Turning a blind eye to the suffering of others

Hear their Pain

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The article in The Post and Courier tapped into something deep. I could barely get through its first paragraphs before I felt the anger rising. It was, I think, a kind of flashback. As I read about this "fight" against medical cannabis, I wasn't the current version of myself so much as the college senior I once was when I took a semester off to care for my dying father. I remembered the lengths we went to with his doctors trying to manage his pain.

So it wasn't easy for me to read that our state Attorney General Alan Wilson held a press conference in order to oppose the legalization of medical cannabis for patients suffering chronic illness and pain. Wilson was flanked in the article by members of the medical and law enforcement communities; noticeably absent were any patients and their families. Rather, in place of the stories of those who are really suffering, Wilson offered base scare tactics. He claimed that marijuana is "the most dangerous drug" and then offered a litany of slang terms for getting high straight out of Scooby-Doo. It would have been laughable if it weren't so serious.

The proposed bill that Wilson was so keen on demonizing is called the Compassionate Care Act, and it is not designed to legalize the recreational use of marijuana as he made it sound. Rather, the Compassionate Care Act would allow patients under medical supervision to acquire a very small amount of cannabis for the treatment of their pain. Thirty-three states have already passed such laws for patients; ours would stand out only for the fact that it is much more restrictive than the others. According to the Compassionate Care Act, medical cannabis would be administered by the State Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) with oversight from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). Republican State Sen. Tom Davis, who filed the act in the Senate, has called it "the most conservative bill [of its kind] in the country." He's right.

I'm grateful to Sen. Davis for filing the act in the Senate and Rep. Peter McCoy for filing it in the House, along with their 13 bipartisan co-sponsors. These legislators have clearly chosen to respond to the suffering of patients by allowing physicians an additional treatment to manage their pain. And we should be clear that medical cannabis is not a trip, it's a treatment. Anyone who has ever cared for someone ill or dying knows the difference. During my father's last days, his hospice team gave him heavy doses of morphine. This wasn't because he was the crazed druggie of Wilson's imagination; it was because his pain was at its threshold and that's all we had left. I found myself wishing, as I read Alan Wilson's comments, that instead of listening to him, we were all listening to those who need medical cannabis. Rather than searching for ways to punish them, we should be passing laws to make their lives a little less painful. Yet if we set the attorney general aside, most of us are in agreement.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken last year showed not only support for medical cannabis, but a near consensus: 93 percent of Americans are in favor. Just last month, a Benchmark Research poll reported that 72 percent of South Carolinians support medical cannabis. So it seems that most of us have the Golden Rule down. If we were suffering or if our neighbor was suffering, we would vote for our doctors to prescribe whatever they deemed necessary to ease the pain. It's too bad our attorney general doesn't feel the same way. And it's too bad that, with everything going on in our state, he is calling press conferences for the sole purpose of denying patients access to a drug that might help.

The truth is that not everything is a crime. And not everything should be punished. I would invite Mr. Wilson and all those at the press conference to stop talking for a moment and spend some time listening to patients and their families. Perhaps then they'll realize that the act is aptly named; it really is about compassionate care.

Jeremy Rutledge is senior minister at Circular Church.

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