South Carolina editorial roundup: Friday, Nov. 5, 2021


The (Charleston) Post and Courier

Nov. 2, 2021

You don't have to be a pothead to support S.C. hemp; in fact, it's best not to be

We've been talking a lot about cannabis at the national and state levels in recent years, but there are really three or four separate debates going on. And as we were reminded by a recent Post and Courier report on South Carolina's struggling hemp industry, people who hope to win converts to their cause of choice would do well to remember that.

At the top of the tower of controversy is legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, which 18 states have done even though it violates federal law. Although former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham has proposed it as part of his campaign for governor, even most Democrats in South Carolina seem hesitant to embrace the idea, and most Republicans are adamantly opposed.

A related, less understood idea is to decriminalize marijuana - that is, to keep it illegal but treat its possession like a speeding ticket, which would have the effect of deprioritizing marijuana arrests. This could reduce prison costs and racial disparities in policing, so it has wider, but still limited, support.

An unrelated idea - or one that should be unrelated - is the medicinal use of marijuana. So far, 38 states have authorized medical marijuana, which studies show can relieve chronic pain that prescription drugs can't touch and do so without the dangerous side effects of opioids.

Whatever you think of medicinal marijuana - and our editorial staff supports it - it continues to face significant opposition from South Carolina's law enforcement community and many physicians. They believe medical marijuana would make it more difficult for police to fight illegal marijuana use and would make physicians feel pressured to prescribe a drug that lacks FDA approval.

That doesn't mean supporters should give up, but it does mean that people whose primary interest is the cultivation of hemp should steer clear of that issue - and even further from decriminalization and legalization of recreational marijuana.

Which brings us to what should be a noncontroversial use of cannabis: hemp farming, which has been touted for years as a replacement for tobacco and other fading crops - a way to support South Carolina's struggling farm economy.

Within months of Congress' lifting restrictions on hemp production and use in 2018, our Legislature expanded the state's experimental hemp-growing program, and more than 200 farmers now have licenses to grow hemp.

But like hemp growers in other states, most are focused on the booming retail market for cannabidiol, or CBD, oversaturating the market. Compounding the problem is the fact that, as one of many efforts to help police distinguish legal hemp from illegal marijuana, the Legislature prohibited farmers from selling hemp flowers, which are used for smoking and in the manufacture of most CBD products, to stores in the state. The result, as The Post and Courier's Jerrel Floyd reports, is that hemp farmers have produce going to waste while CBD stores and other retail outlets are selling out of processed hemp purchased from other states.

The struggles of the hemp industry are worrisome, not because hemp is an essential crop - at least not yet - but because there is great social, environmental and economic value in preserving South Carolina's agricultural heritage.

Growers should have recognized the state restrictions before they jumped into the business, but now that we have a crop of farmers who better understand the practical effect of our state laws, the Legislature should work with them, the Agriculture Department and law enforcement to find a way to loosen the restrictions. Hemp advocates who hope to convince legislators should stop talking about recreational or even medicinal marijuana when making their case. In fact, they should do everything they can to separate those issues in the minds of legislators - and everyone.

And instead of focusing so much on the shiny object that is the oversaturated CBD market, hemp farmers should cultivate new markets for hemp fiber and grain, such as its potential use in rope, clothing, mulch, building materials, paper and fuel. That's something the state Agriculture Department could, and should, work to grow.

The (Greenwood) Index-Journal

Nov. 2, 2021

It's in the numbers

What's in a number?

A matter of perspective, we suppose, but when it comes to this damnable coronavirus, the numbers are rather astounding.

As of Monday, COVID-19 had claimed more than 5 million lives worldwide. South Carolina is accounting for nearly 12,000 of that total. That number might seem minuscule to some, but we suspect it is a deeply meaningful number to the families of those 12,000.

Five million might also seem like a small number when compared with the overall population of our globe. Here again, however, it's likely a painful number to their families and friends.

In South Carolina, we still have yet to reach 60% of residents who are fully vaccinated. Self Regional Medical services a multi-county area in and around Greenwood County. For a number of weeks now, we have published the hospital's numbers twice a week that reflect how many patients are being treated for COVID-19, how many are fully vaccinated versus not fully (if at all) vaccinated, how many are in ICU and how many are on a ventilator. The twice-weekly reports also show the average age of those vaccinated and those not fully vaccinated.

Once again, the numbers are quite telling. They are significant. Report after report points out what we think should be obvious, which is that vaccinations work. Week in and week out, the numbers show that much older people who are fully vaccinated are less likely to be in ICU or on a ventilator. On the flip side, the unvaccinated, or those who are not fully vaccinated, have a much lower average age but are more likely to be in the hospital's ICU or on a ventilator.

We like the numbers 1, 2 and 3. Get the first shot, get the second and, if advised by your doctor, go ahead and get that third shot, the booster.

What's in a number? Plenty.

The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat

Nov. 2, 2021

Scott plan can help retirees, fill positions

South Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is stepping up for retirement security for Americans.

The ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Scott on Thursday released a report titled "The American Dream in our Golden Years: Improving Retirement Security and Building Independence." It examines current trends and gaps in the retirement savings system.

"Having spent 25 years in the insurance and financial services industry, one of the things I realize is that we don't talk often enough about the importance of retirement security," Scott said.

"(A) key area my report examines is the complicated and confusing rules seniors face when deciding when to collect Social Security. This rule, known as the Retirement Earnings Test, or RET, confuses retirees and disincentivizes work because it is viewed as a tax. That's why, today, I introduced the Senior Citizens' Freedom to Work Act of 2021 to remove the RET and simplify the decision-making process for seniors," Scott said.

Scott was joined by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in proposing a repeal of the Social Security RET, which in a time of labor shortages is keeping some people ages 62 and above out of work or keeping others that are older on the job too long.

Though Americans can begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 62, many do not or cannot because they must or want to continue working. But Social Security penalizes people short of their "full retirement age."

In 2021, if you're under full retirement age, the annual earnings limit is $18,960. If you will reach full retirement age in 2021, the limit on your earnings for the months before full retirement age is $50,520.

For any earnings above the limits, Social Security withholds $1 for every $2 earned.

Many people still working can do the math and see there is no fiscal logic in accepting Social Security benefits because they will all be withheld because of RET. And those getting Social Security benefits before full retirement have little or no incentive to work.

Although lost benefits are replaced at full retirement age, many seniors are unaware their benefits will be replaced and, consequently, choose not to work or choose to work fewer hours to stay below the threshold.

With all the back and forth in Washington on how to raise money for programs favored by the Democratic majority, the prospects of the Scott-Rubio proposal being adopted are at best uncertain. But it would do as much to help many retirees and the economy as anything on the table at present.

Other proposals are:

- Expanding lifetime income options for retirees.

- Codifying auto-portability regulations to prevent leakage.

- Plan benefit expense flexibility to increase retirement options.

- Expanding and strengthening health savings accounts.

- Protecting the gig economy.

- Supporting golden entrepreneurs.

Scott says he looks forward "to discussing the reforms and more so we can ensure that all Americans have the tools necessary to retire with dignity and independence during their golden years."

Hopefully the discussions will be more productive than many in Washington these days.