Exclusive Series: SLED Takes Strong Stand Against Medical Marijuana

The chief of SLED opposes a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) – The road to legalizing medical marijuana in South Carolina stops abruptly at the doorstep of law enforcement in the state.

S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel has been a steadfast opponent to the idea.

“This is still a federally prohibited schedule one controlled substance,” Keel said, “it’s an illegal drug.”

28 states and the District of Columbia have already passed some form of medical marijuana legislation.

Keel has fought crime for 41 years. His first job was buying drugs, undercover.

“I can remember very vividly seeing ‘High Times’ magazines in California talking about legalizing marijuana,” Keel said, “and we all laughed about it. We said, ‘uhh it’ll never happen here in South Carolina.’ Well, here we are. We on its doorstep.”

Keel said stopping the bill from moving forward is a top priority for him, and other leaders in law enforcement across the state because of what he calls unintended consequences.

“We’re gonna see the social cost, that ultimately will be leveled back on law enforcement.”

He said he’s been talking to his counterparts in other states, who report a rise in criminal activity, homelessness and youth use. Finding actual proof of this is tricky. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan non-profit organization, compiled data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is sponsored by an agency in the Department of Health and Human Services. The researchers looked at usage rates in seven states with medical marijuana laws between 2004 and 2011. They found that legalization increased both marijuana use and marijuana abuse/dependence in those 21 or older. Another study from NSDUH found that youth use rates in states that had legalized marijuana in some form, surpassed those that have not.

“Once it’s sold, nobody can prevent it from being diverted to other people,” Keel said. “Most agencies are understaffed. They don’t have resources to combat another law enforcement problem.”

Keel’s concerns about using marijuana as medicine extend beyond the criminal world, to the medical and research realms as well.

“We do not oppose anything that’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and because there’s so much that is unknown about marijuana used as medicine, we truly believe more studies need to be done.”

Keel said he’s talked to families like the Keefer’s from Irmo, who we introduced you to last week.

“All of us are sympathetic to the plight they find themselves in and we all know that they’re looking for hope, and we want that same hope for them.”

But for a program that requires you to break the law to come to life, Keel said this bill does not go far enough.

“SLED has no regulatory authority in this bill,” he said.

The sponsor of this session’s bill, Republican Senator Tom Davis, told ABC Columbia that he drafted the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act with leaders like Keel in mind.

“It’s not like SLED is the enemy, or SLED is the opposition,” Davis said. “SLED is an important player in this process, and the public expects them to be heard, and I’m listening, and trying to respond to their concerns.”

In the next part of this exclusive series, you’ll hear from the lawmaker about the logistics involved with getting a program in place, plus, why he says it’s not a matter of if, but when, this reality will take shape in our state.

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