From our News Partners at WCBD-TV:

South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, announced Wednesday that the state Democratic Party will have a referendum question on the party’s June primary ballot asking voters whether they favor legalizing medical marijuana. He made the announcement at a news conference to push a bill he’s sponsoring that would do that.

Technically, medical marijuana has been legal in South Carolina since 1980, but the law directed the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to obtain and distribute the marijuana without the money or a plan for doing that, so the law’s been ignored, Rutherford says.

"My bill would authorize a person who has a debilitating medical condition, who has a medical verification form completed by a physician registered with DHEC, to obtain a registered identification card to use medical marijuana,” he says.

It would also provide for caregivers who pass background checks to get and administer medical marijuana, provide for the operation of dispensaries, and set up licensing South Carolina farmers to grow and distribute it. The bill would also provide penalties for those who get medical marijuana fraudulently. The medicine would also be taxed.

Gail Patterson’s son Marshal died after an epileptic seizure, which she says could have been prevented by medical marijuana. She also has epilepsy. "Now I live in fear of the same fate as my son," she says.

Steva Kiser of Gaffney knows how well medical cannabis can work. Her 2-year-old grandson Ezra had uncontrolled seizures from birth, which had caused other problems. His mother moved him to Colorado and he’s now taking cannabis oil, which does not have the mind-altering properties of marijuana.

Kiser says he’s now seizure-free and getting better. She used to pray for something to ease his suffering.

"Never did I think God would answer with marijuana,” she says. “I mean, you know, I'm an educator. I was so much against marijuana. But as I've educated myself and as I've learned about I've seen the miracles that have happened. I have a totally different attitude."

Rutherford says he realizes his bill is running out of time to pass this year, since a bill must pass in one body or the other before May 1 to have a realistic chance of becoming law. But he says this push to raise awareness, and the results of the June referendum, should build momentum to get his bill passed next year.

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone Photo