by Amber Pridgen, For Weekly Surge, (Source:Sun News)
12 Aug 2010
Mum's The Word When It Comes To Palmetto State Pot Reform
The seeds of change for legalizing medical marijuana are being planted from coast to coast with states such as Washington, Oregon, Vermont and New Jersey speaking out, declaring themselves official card-carrying members of the movement. Marijuana dispensaries are dotted throughout the cities of Santa Barbara, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo., while the Garden State's Trenton and Newark are gearing up for their first harvest of legally grown marijuana to be distributed in dispensaries this fall. Buying it legally is becoming a part of America's landscape, in much the same way local corner stores have.
When it comes to socio-political trends in this country, they tend to come to us like the wind, usually from the West.
"As is often the case, the state of California has been out in front of other states when it comes to policy change. California was the first state to approve medical marijuana use in 1996," said Western Carolina University political science professor, Gibbs Knotts.
So what role is South Carolina taking in the fight for marijuana reform? Are we following in the tilled steps of our western revolutionaries by lobbying for the legalization of medical marijuana? The truth is, y'all, we haven't even looked at a piece of ground to plant an idea on.
But here on the Strand, the idea of marijuana reform will take center stage on Wednesday, when the Legalize It 2010 Tour, featuring cannabis-espousing rock and hip-hop artists Slightly Stoopid, Cypress Hill, and Collie Buddz roll into town at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach. The tour's goal is to spread the word, the vibe, and the bong, while taking the concept of legalized marijuana to the streets in an effort to raise awareness, coupled with columns of smoke.
So far, in this election year in Horry County, there has been roughly $160,000-worth of marijuana seized in pounds, with $487,000 seized in plants, from approximately 450 people charged with violations. With these kinds of numbers, might it get the attention of our legislation?
In a recent phone interview, S.C. State Rep. Tracy Edge, who represents Horry County, commented "I'm not aware of any legislation coming to the floor regarding the legalization of medical marijuana. A legalization tour might bring awareness, but in trying to change laws you have to be smart about the process. You have to know the arena you are going in to. For medical marijuana to be considered you would need highly knowledgeable people lobbying for it, such as oncologists. At this point, there isn't enough medical backing for such a law."
So where are the medical minds of South Carolina on this issue? Places like New Jersey have, by comparison to South Carolina, become radical, giving the East Coast a little smack down in changing its marijuana laws earlier this year. As the community responds, one idea gaining momentum is to have teaching hospitals be the solitary dispensers of medical marijuana, especially considering anticipated issues with secure buildings, as well as knowledge of the needs of patients.
But in South Carolina, here it appears that if a socially acceptable leader won't drive the bandwagon, no one is going to ask for the keys and start a procession. In our state, the truth is that our laws on this issue are being driven by a lack of collective interest. No one, at this time, appears to be the politician or physician who will stand up for the cause and go against the grain of their contemporaries. The bottom line is that this kind of law reform in our state is hard ball politics. It's most everything we see on TV about coming elections, voter polls, and demographics- all pushing the politics.
The status quo
Marijuana is a state issue, which politically takes us not only onto the floor our General Assembly, but the Governor's office as well.
"States which have legalized medical marijuana have done so through the Governor and state legislature, not the federal government in Washington" explained Kevin Bishop, Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
In a recent attempt to correspond with Governor Mark Sanford on the issue of medical marijuana, his policy advisor, Susan Duncan, replied "Thank you for your correspondence to Governor Sanford regarding the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use. We appreciate your taking the time. However, this administration neither supports nor advocates change on this front. Please know the Governor does support current state laws regarding the use of marijuana."
What about the state's next governor, which will be decided in November?
How do the candidates feel about marijuana reform in the Palmetto State?
We wish you could tell you, but they wouldn't tell us.
We attempted to contact Democratic candidate for governor, Vincent Sheheen, along with his Republican opponent, Nikki Haley, and got no response.
Rolling, rolling, rolling
Meanwhile, the Legalize It 2010 tour has been rolling more than papers across country this summer, beginning in California, moving its way east to Virginia, back west to Missouri, north to Massachusetts, southwest to Nebraska, then back east again, with many places in between. Everywhere it goes, the mantra is the same: Pass the Joint. For those of you who have kept your head in the clouds throughout the year, Legalize It 2010 is the brain child of the groovy, reggae, punk rockers Slightly Stoopid; a band that's been hitting the road for years, playing to capacity crowds eager for the energy that's shared between Stoopidheads.
The tour is dedicated to the awareness of legalizing marijuana, and not solely for medicinal use, they advocate the Full Nelson: legalize marijuana, period. Being from California, the leader of medical marijuana in our country, Slightly Stoopid and co-headliners Cypress Hill both have the insight and experience of what legalized marijuana can do for a state, and they are taking that message to the streets.
"At the venue, supporters can expect to see various organizations that usually attend and promote certain shows: The MPP ( Marijuana Policy Project ), NORML and more. We encourage local policy supporters to attend and spread the word. The tour's street team has contacted locals in hopes of boosting show attendance to educate people, and increase awareness on the issue," explained Slightly Stoopid drummer, Ryan "Rymo" Morgan, in a recent phone interview from the road."We knew we wanted to do something big again this summer. We've been fans of Cypress Hill and Collie Buddz for some time. We figured they would make an ideal bill to spread the love."
And the awareness is definitely spreading; there are 14 states that have passed state laws legalizing medical marijuana. California in 1996; Alaska, Washington, and Oregon followed in 1998; Maine in 1999, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada in 2000; Vermont and Montana in 2004; Rhode Island in 2006; New Mexico in 2007; Michigan in 2008; and New Jersey in 2010. "None of the 14 states with legalized medical marijuana are in the South," said WCU's Knotts. "Of the 14 states, the West is in the lead with nine. Four of the states are in the Northeast and one is in the Midwest.
And these are just the ones that have already passed legislature. The organization MPP ( Marijuana Policy Project ) is presently lobbying for medical marijuana-related bills in the state legislatures of Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New York.
"States in the American South, like South Carolina, are more conservative both socially and economically," said Knotts. "Given the political culture in South Carolina, I would be very surprised if the state moved to legalize marijuana use."
Will that climate alter the Legalize It 2010 tour's message or stance come Wednesday at the House of Blues?
"I mean as far as state to state with different laws in each one, there really isn't that much of a difference. We do our thing no matter where we are. We may be a bit more careful with our smoke on stage in certain places," Slightly Stoopid's Morgan said. "We are looking forward to a high energy, crazy show. Myrtle Beach has always been great to us in terms of good crowds and energy. In terms of S.C.'s medical marijuana policy, and that of other states, we feel that the Western states will lead the charge, California, Oregon, Colorado, Montana, etc. As legalization becomes more socially acceptable, other states will jump on."
Inspired by Morgan's on-stage smoking comment, we inquired with House of Blues and North Myrtle Beach officials to find out if the pro-pot event on Wednesday will garner any heightened security/police presence, and they were as mum as many of the politicians we queried on the subject, with no response received as of press time.
A small seed planted
The Palmetto State keeps the lid on the subject locked up tight. While other states may be jumping on the bandwagon, our state doesn't seem willing to entertain the idea. The closest there has been to discussions on a state law legalizing medical marijuana came in January 2007 when Sen. William Mescher, R-Berkeley County, introduced S 220, a bill that would legalize marijuana and allow patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, severe pain, and other serious illnesses to use the drug with their doctor's approval. Sadly, Mescher died of a heart attack on April 8, 2007, roughly two months after proposing the bill.
"Senator Mescher's efforts for legalization didn't gain any traction in the committee, and no one has come out since then. It would be very difficult, politically, for a representative in South Carolina's legislation to gain any ground in attempts to legalize medical marijuana," S.C. Sen. Raymond E. Cleary III, who represents Horry County, said in a recent phone interview.
Was Mescher the only politician in South Carolina with a dream of marijuana reform? LikeRep.Edge said, there needs to be a show of support from the medical community to promote medical marijuana, but where are these voices? Shouldn't physicians be speaking out on the benefits of marijuana for their patients, the prime candidates to experience the windfall? Consider how that might play out in our General Assembly: have highly intelligent, established, and respected professionals lobby for marijuana reform to help those suffering. Isn't that what brought the concept of legalization to other states anyway?
It seems the doctors aren't talking either.
"With response to your inquiry to talk with the research department on the possibility of medical marijuana in South Carolina, MUSC ( Medical University of South Carolina ) and the Hollings Cancer Center does not have any comment. And since it's not even on the legal or legislative horizon in South Carolina it is not something our doctors want to comment on either," replied Vicky Agnew, Director of Strategic Communications at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, when asked for an interview to gain a physician's perspective on medical marijuana.
The late Senator Mescher's motives for legalization are rooted in medicinal use: his wife was terminally ill and died years before the bill was introduced; the events of her struggle never left him, prompting him to introduce the proposed legislation 24 years after her death.
For South Carolina, the process would require our General Assembly to listen to testimony from doctors, patients, and other concerned parties, but the fact of the matter is the people of our state apparently show no drive, or intention, to change the law. And for those who agree with medical marijuana, it appears the voices are louder at concerts rather than congress.
Preaching to the converted
Slightly Stoopid has a huge following, and regardless of the connotation of the band's name, has never been dim-witted. The band spiraled through the music industry in much the same way TOOL has, maintaining creative control, and in charge of its musical destiny. Slightly Stoopid has found its niche ( selling out 25,000 seats at Flavet Field in Florida earlier this year, as well as selling out the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, in November of 2009. )
But as the Legalize It tour rolls into the buckle of the Bible Belt, what about the diehard anti-everything protesters who excitedly exercise their First Amendment right?
"We have had a few soap box preachers," said Morgan. "One time in Virginia this guy set up across the street from our bus with his milk crate [to stand on] and bible in hand. He was ranting and raving about hell, fire, and brimstone. Miles [one of band's two front men] went over and started to talk to him. He ended up leaving shortly thereafter. Miles didn't threaten him or tell him to leave. He just said, 'Look man, this is our job. We bring people together to have fun, and burn off some steam from everyday life. We aren't out to corrupt the youth or cause problems...' The guy heard him and left. Being a 'Stoopidhead' is a way of life, a state of mind. The band's name is kind of tongue in cheek. It's not too serious. We are about having fun and partying and hanging out with your friends. Stoopidheads are some of the best and most loyal music fans out there. The proof is in the numbers at our live shows. We are normal guys that enjoy playing music together and don't take stuff too seriously. I think that is part of the reason we've been able to generate a true following."
The Gateway Drug
What is it that cripples our notions and won't let our collective brains be nudged, politically, on the issue? Why is it so taboo to even talk about? What crime is marijuana responsible for? The answer is marijuana's bad reputation for being a gateway drug. It's where everyone starts when it comes to experimenting with narcotics.
"In 25 years of working drugs, I can't recall one drug user that didn't admit starting with marijuana. Matter a fact, some marijuana users are 'mixing' other drugs such as PCP [Angel Dust] with their marijuana as well as a large portion of crack, cocaine and heroin users still using marijuana in conjunction with their drug of choice" states Lt. Michael Cannon, of Horry County Police Department's Narcotics division. "People tend to think a D.U.I. [Driving Under the Influence] charge relates to only alcohol, but that's not true. It's driving under the influence of any drug."
But what about the hype that marijuana is the biggest cash crop in South Carolina? As the struggling economy grips our lifestyle, wouldn't that cash be helpful to the financial condition of our state?
"Tough economic times often result in creative solutions for states to generate additional revenue," said Knotts. "Tax receipts for marijuana production and sales could be quite substantial."
Marijuana beats out tobacco as the number one crop in our state according to drugscience.org, so what of that?
"I'd like to know how one determines that. One marijuana plant seized is considered by law enforcement to be worth approximately $3,200 on the street, the state gets nothing," responds Cannon. "The driving factor for get-rich-quick ideas in the drug world is the concept that one person will buy large amounts of marijuana and then sell them all at the smallest quantity. That's just not how it happens. It's not realistic."
What to keep in mind, financially, is that in other states where legalization is taking place, the state isn't the proprietor of the marijuana; it only taxes it. So for the diehard number pushers who say marijuana can bring in billions to our state, that's not being realistic.
Marijuana definitely has the potential to bring in money for the state, but exactly how much is a matter of laws and ordinances that would vary from county to county. For example, take the rounded off $600,000 in marijuana from this year so far and tax it at 10 percent ( which is what the Oakland, Calif., council is trying to do ) then take the $60,000 in taxes for half the year, double it and get $120,000, per year in taxes, for the state from Horry County. Even though the Grand Strand is one of the most active areas in the state regarding narcotics, for good measure, still allocate all counties in S.C. $120,000 per year in taxes for the state. With South Carolina's 46 counties, our state could pull in an estimated $5.5 million a year in taxable marijuana, to start. And this doesn't include licensing fees, both for county and state. As Colorado, a state legalized since 2000, gears up for a round of yearly state fees on the 700 applications filed for new dispensaries, the state brought in roughly $7.34 million as a first step in getting the dispensaries legit, legal and loaded with product. This is before anything is even sold. There is no doubt about it, marijuana could bring extra revenue to our state, so what is the hold up, really?
"Well sure, a state can legalize all kinds of things to bring in extra money. I mean, legalize prostitution while you're at it and tax that. It will surely bring in extra money, but think about the change it will have on the culture of the community. We have to think about the message we send the impressionable minds of our state," said Lt. Cannon. "And let me ask you something, out of all the arrests for simple possession and on up the line of marijuana amounts, how many of those do you think were patients seeking relief from medical conditions? Most of the cases made against an individual who may benefit from medical marijuana use are purely coincidental and usually the result of a traffic stop or some other unrelated violation. The bottom line is: it is illegal and we pursue all the state's drug laws with the same amount of vigor. And look, what if the "big cash crop" were turned for a profit? You'd have every 18-year-old out there buying and selling to their 14, 15, and 16 old friends to make a profit. Then those kids will get in their car and drive around smoking pot like it's a cigarette. And the reason they get in that car and drive is because they've been told by state laws that marijuana isn't harmful. That it doesn't affect you. And that's just not true. It slows reaction time; it slows the thinking process; it clouds judgment. They don't call it 'dope' for nothing."
Lt. Cannon also questions the motivation of movements, such as the Legalize It tour.
"Take a look at who it is that is trying to legalize it. I mean really look at them and their motives. Do you have doctors knocking the doors of our legislation down?" Lt. Cannon asked. "What about those who are sick and might have something to gain? Where are they? Is anyone in South Carolina's legislation and hospitals even talking about it?"