“Free marijuana — Information,” Josh Griffin, a member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), shouted from the Statehouse steps Friday morning.
Anti-criminalization, recreational and pro-medical marijuana activists united to educate students, parents and anyone walking across the Statehouse grounds to the tune of cannabis-themed spoofs like “Marijuanaville,” a parody of Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville,” and “It’s Only a Weed,” based on “Hey There, Delilah.”
“The goal of this event was to unite the multiple cannabis organizations, non-profits and hemp/cannabis businesses, bring us all together,” event organizer Shane Bush said. “We're not going to agree on everything, but we still have common ground.”
Bush, a resident of Charleston, is a part-time hemp farmer and recreational marijuana user. He described himself as a troubled youth who experienced jail time, who is now able to stay out of trouble and keep his aggression in line since he started smoking marijuana.
Attendee Cyndy Keiper said she showed up to educate others about the mental health benefits of marijuana. She recently lost her husband to lung cancer and saw him struggle to find relief before using cannabis.
“I lost my husband three weeks ago to cancer,” Keiper said. “They had him on all kinds of oxycodone and all this, but once he smoked, that was it — he was fine, and unfortunately, that’s illegal.”
Keiper, like her late husband, uses marijuana because other medications struggled to help her anxiety and PTSD.
“I was on Xanax for 10 years and started having short-term memory loss,” Keiper said. “I'm like 'you know what, stop, get off this medication now,' and when I (started smoking marijuana), I’m fine.”
David Lafayette, a veteran and high school friend of Bush, said he does not use marijuana, but he advocates for medical marijuana and decriminalization as Americans struggle with mental health.
“It’s closer to a natural form of medication, treatment, holistic therapy,” Lafayette said. “The White House also came out with a press release announcing we’re in the middle of a mental health crisis — the solution is this.”
South Carolina is one of 37 states which allow the use of medical marijuana. However, it is only legal when less than 0.3% THC, the primary psychoactive compound in weed and what is responsible for a high. South Carolina is also not one of the 21 states to allow recreational use.
However, efforts have been made to fully legalize medical marijuana. State Sen. Tom Davis' (R-Beaufort) presented a revision of his Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize medical marijuana, early in the 2023 legislative session. The bill passed the South Carolina Senate last session, but stalled in the House of Representatives.
Activists on Friday claimed that the continued ban on recreational use is directly linked into the prison industrial complex.
"As our legislators often say, follow the money,” Scott Weldon, the executive director of South Carolina NORML, said. “There is a for-profit prison system, there (are) billions of dollars that are being funded by the taxpayer (for) the war on drugs.”
Weldon isn’t alone in his prison theory, either.
“The private prison system is just slavery,” Bush said. “They get paid for those inmates, so they want to arrest you as easily as possible.”
In 2021, 39% of South Carolina's drug-possession arrests were related to marijuana. A year earlier, the South Carolina ACLU found that Black people are nearly three and a half times more likely to be arrest for marijuana possession than white individuals.
The demonstrators at the Statehouse said they just want to see the normalization and legalization of a medicinal drug they believe is much less dangerous than alcohol.
“You get someone that's hurting on the inside, and you get them drunk — it’s a problem,” Bush said. “You get them stoned, they're just going to want to eat.”