When it comes to the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, it is normally thought that those on the right, those being conservative Republicans, are usually against marijuana use, and that those on the left, the liberal Democrats, are usually for marijuana use. However, there seems to be a subtle change in the Southern United States when it comes to marijuana, even in these times of overwhelming conservative rule.
Currently, medical marijuana programs have been established in 28 states. However, despite over half the country allowing marijuana in some form, only two of those states are in the South. Florida and Arkansas both approved medical marijuana programs via the voting booth last November, though neither medical marijuana program is yet in place. Louisiana just created a law last year that will eventually allow medical marijuana, though it won’t involve smoking or vaping the drug.
While 28 states allow comprehensive medical marijuana programs, only two of those are in the South. Arkansas and Florida voters approved theirs through the ballot last November. Neither is in place yet. A law signed in Louisiana last year, also not yet in effect, doesn’t allow the smoking or vaping of marijuana.
But now it seems that the stance on marijuana by conservative lawmakers in the South is slowly changing.
Case in point: South Carolina Representative Eric Bedingfield, a self-proclaimed teetotaler, was once dead set against any legislation that would permit the use of marijuana in any form. However, his opinion about marijuana changed a year ago. Bedingfield’s son overdosed last year from an opioid addiction after using Oxycontin for six years. The conservative Republican South Carolina Representative now believes that had his son been able to legally ween himself off of opioids using medical marijuana, his life could have been saved. As such, Bedingfield has now co-sponsored medical marijuana legislation in South Carolina.
“My mindset has changed from somebody who looked down on it as a negative substance to saying, ‘This has benefits.’ My eyes are wide open, and it’s time to think like those who are hurting. I want to remove that fear by people afflicted by addiction. I ask law enforcement to work with us.”
Eric Bedingfield’s marijuana proposal is called the “Good Samaritan” bill. If enacted, it would give limited immunity from prosecution for individuals trying to get medical help for someone who is in danger of overdosing. Opponents of Bedingfield’s marijuana bill are citing another bill that doesn’t add marijuana to the list of “legal” drugs but goes after the availability of opioids. The bill makes it necessary for doctors to consult a statewide database of medical histories before they can give out prescriptions for an opioid – such as Percocet or Oxycontin – beyond a five-day supply.
And Bedingfield isn’t the only conservative southern lawmaker that is changing his mind when it comes to the use of medical marijuana. After experiencing personal losses, or after hearing heartbreaking stories about pain and suffering from their constituents, more and more Republican lawmakers are coming around on the use of medical marijuana.
In South Carolina, however, the idea of legalizing marijuana in any form is still vehemently opposed by State Law Enforcement. The director of the state’s Sheriff’s Association told a House panel that he couldn’t possibly support a law legalizing a drug that the federal government still “puts in the same class as heroin and cocaine.”
The debate over the legalization of marijuana in the United States is certain to continue into the foreseeable future, whether every state in the Union legalizes marijuana or every state in the Union makes marijuana illegal once more. What do you think? Are you a conservative? What’s your opinion on the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes?
[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]