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Sumter Chamber of Commerce opposed to medical marijuana

BY KAYLA ROBINS kayla@theitem.com
Posted 12/14/19

A topic Sumter business advocates are against and were told was dead may now resurface during 2020's upcoming legislative session.

Medical marijuana was the surprise agenda item that took up more discussion than any topic other than education …

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Sumter Chamber of Commerce opposed to medical marijuana

Posted

A topic Sumter business advocates are against and were told was dead may now resurface during 2020's upcoming legislative session.

Medical marijuana was the surprise agenda item that took up more discussion than any topic other than education during the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce's annual Legislative Breakfast held Thursday morning at Central Carolina's Health Sciences Building downtown.

Each year, the Chamber makes its list of legislative priorities, ranging from education and workforce development to taxes and regulations to military matters. Chris Hardy, the Chamber's president and CEO, did not expect the issue of medical marijuana being legalized in the state to return as a movement with strong positive momentum.

"It was on our agenda last year, and we had a lot of conversations about it and were led to believe that even though it may come up, there wouldn't be strength to it. So, we took it off, but it sounds like we may need to add it back," Hardy said.

The notice came from state Rep. Robert Ridgeway III, a Democrat from Manning who represents eastern Sumter County and most of Clarendon County. Ridgeway, who is also against its legalization, said those pushing for medical marijuana to come to South Carolina are going to be advocating for it "hot and heavy."

Ridgeway sat on the panel with state Reps. David Weeks, D-Sumter, and Wendy Brawley, D-Richland, and state Sens. Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, and this year's chair of the Sumter delegation, Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter. State Reps. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, and Will Wheeler, D-Lee, were both out of the state on separate business trips.

While Brawley mentioned the benefits seen by medical marijuana's use in children suffering from seizures and those dealing with chronic pain, Ridgeway and others took issue with the thought that its legalization would pave the way for recreational marijuana and with the impact law enforcement officials have said it would have on their enforcement.

"We firmly believe it would not be beneficial to us as a business community. If it passes, we believe it would be an issue in regards to workforce retention, workforce recruitment, economic development, and it's just something we don't want," Hardy said.

He even said a major company that is currently in Sumter has said they will pull out of South Carolina if the state legalizes medical marijuana but did not elaborate on which business.

One of the Chamber's major initiatives is to stay abreast of potential and ongoing bills and laws and to, when necessary, come out in favor of or against certain issues as they relate to the business community.

Hardy said being the seventh-largest Chamber in the state means he feels obligated to take a stance on big issues. He feels those stances "have some clout to it."

Other priorities the Chamber has for the upcoming session, which starts at the Statehouse in Columbia on Jan. 14, include increasing focus on soft skills development for middle and high school students; approving local business leader Greg Thompson's proposed charter school; increasing teacher compensation and state college and university funding; adopting a uniform business license application process; finding an alternative to Act 388; fully exempting military retirees from state incomes taxes; and adopting reciprocal licensing for military spouses.

"That's the only way we look at them," Hardy said. "Like medical marijuana, we can't look at it from a medical standpoint. That's not our job. Our job is to protect the business community."