South Carolina Rep. Eric Bedingfield once shunned all marijuana use, but when his eldest son’s six-year struggle with opioid addiction ended with his overdose a year ago, the conservative Republican co-sponsored medical cannabis legislation.
“My mindset has changed from somebody who looked down on it as a negative substance to saying, ‘This has benefits,'” Bedingfield said recently.
The 50-year-old teetotaler believes marijuana may effectively wean addicts from an opioid dependence. Ultimately, the Marine veteran hopes medical marijuana can be an alternative to people being prescribed OxyContin or other opioid painkillers to begin with, helping curb an epidemic he’s seen destroy families of all economic levels.
Two decades after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, efforts to let patients legally access pot are slowly taking root in the South.
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.
This year’s renewed push in South Carolina is bolstered by some of the state’s most conservative legislators, such as Bedingfield, whose opinions have shifted due to personal losses or the pleadings of parents and pastors in their districts.
Three years ago, state lawmakers passed a very narrow law allowing patients with severe epilepsy, or their caregivers, to legally possess cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive oil derived from marijuana. Bedingfield voted against that idea.
Bill Davis, a Christian author who leads a Bible study for people fighting drug addiction, said he was bedridden before trying marijuana. Diagnosed two years ago with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease with no cure, he was put on an experimental drug with “horrible side effects.”
“I had to decide whether