Desperate for Relief


Margaret RichardsonMargaret Richardson doesn’t match the stereotypical image of a marijuana user, which made her recent testimony about medical cannabis to a panel of state senators all the more riveting.

The 62-year-old mother and grandmother is the wife of Scott Richardson — the former Republican state senator and director of the South Carolina Department of Insurance.

But the week of Thanksgiving 2018, agonized by the searing pain of trigeminal neuralgia — “like having a Bunsen burner turned on inside your head,” she says — Richardson took a friend’s whispered advice to try cannabis.

The opiates prescribed by her physician in 2015 had knocked down the pain, but at the unacceptable cost of destroying her stomach. Three years after a complicated surgery to implant wires controlled by a transmitter, the treatment became less effective in stopping the severe pain.

“I didn’t know what medical marijuana was until then. I didn’t have a clue. I was so desperate that when someone proffered it, I tried it,” she says.

To her astonishment, it worked. Since then, Richardson has reluctantly broken federal and state law against possessing the illegal Schedule I drug because it’s the only thing that seems to help.

“As a law-abiding citizen, I feel awful being thrust into buying something on the black market, not knowing if it’s safe or if the content is what is advertised, not knowing how much to take,” says the longtime Hilton Head Island resident.

Which is why she’s become a vocal and visible advocate for the Compassionate Care Act, state Sen. Tom Davis’ bill to legalize and regulate medical cannabis in South Carolina. Senate Bill 366 cleared a subcommittee before the gavel sounded in late April and will be taken up “first thing” by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee when the S.C. Senate convenes again in January.

“It will retain that place, right where we left off. So, we’re not starting over again. We’re picking up where we left off,” says Davis, a Beaufort Republican.



He has patiently shepherded the bill through the system for several years, trying to address the concerns of opponents, including the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the South Carolina Medical Association and Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he won’t sign a bill that conflicts with federal law banning marijuana.

Davis says the bill had the votes to get out of committee this session, but he deferred to colleagues who asked him to give them more time before voting.

“I had several senators tell me, ‘You’ve done a great job with the bill, but it’s 45 pages long, and I’d like to have time to look at it over the summer. Don’t force me into a ‘no’ vote now when I may have a ‘yes’ later,’” Davis says.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have approved medical cannabis laws, while 10 states have approved so-called “recreational” bills that essentially legalize the drug.

From the outset, Davis has said South Carolinians don’t want a “backdoor bill” to legalize recreational use. As a result, in its current version, the measure would be the strictest medical marijuana law in the nation. Among its provisions, it would:

  • Allow cannabis prescriptions only for conditions where published medical research has demonstrated a therapeutic effect.
  • Require an ongoing relationship between patient and prescribing physician to prevent so-called “pot docs” setting up prescription-writing practices.
  • Require growers, processors and dispensers each to be licensed.

Cannabis products would be trackable “seed-to-sale” by SLED and DHAC in real-time.

The drug will be legal in only non-leaf form, to help officers recognize non-legal use.

Anyone attempting to “divert” cannabis for recreational use would be subject to a felony charge punishable by five years in prison.

Davis acknowledges that the bill borders on “regulatory overkill,” but wants to be sure it’s the right law for South Carolina.

“I want this to be an extremely conservative bill,” he said

Richardson just hopes that South Carolina legislators will hear her story and realize that the people who need medical cannabis are not “Woodstock types” looking for a way to get high.

“These are mothers in their 80s trying to help daughters who have cancer or are on chemo,” she says. “These are people, including children, with cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain, just trying to get what they need legally. These are veterans with PTSD. These are your friends and neighbors.”



  • 33 states have legalized medicinal use of marijuana.
  • The term medical marijuana refers to using the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant or its extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine.
  • But scientific study of the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids, has led to two FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals in pill form.
  • The US marijuana market is worth $52 billion — but 87% of sales were on the black market.

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