A South Carolina Senate committee has approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
Sen. Tom Davis (R) introduced the S.C. Compassionate Care Act last month, with tweaks that are meant to avoid procedural problems that derailed an earlier version the reform last year. The prior measure had cleared the full Senate but stalled out on the House floor because of a procedural issue with tax-related language.
On Tuesday, in a 9-8 vote, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee used a process to advance the new legislation without physically meeting. It next heads to a floor vote.
Overall, the bill would allow patients to access cannabis from licensed dispensaries if they receive a doctor’s recommendation for the treatment of qualifying conditions.
Earlier today the Compassionate Care Act was polled out of the Medical Affairs Committee and put on the SC Senate’s calendar for consideration. This bill would empower physicians by allowing them to authorize medicinal use of cannabis by patients. 37 states already allow this. pic.twitter.com/eRr9K8fRoN
— Tom Davis (@SenTomDavisSC) February 21, 2023
Kevin Caldwell of the Marijuana Policy Project said he is “excited” to see the bill start to advance this year after falling short of the finish line last session.
“We hope to see the Senate again pass this critical bill. The House of Representatives should make sure that the legislation is heard and voted on its merits,” he told Marijuana Moment. “The people of South Carolina have consistently shown that they support legalized medical cannabis and deserve to see this legislation debated in both houses of the legislature.”
Here are the main provisions of the proposal:
“Debilitating medical conditions” for which patients could receive a medical cannabis recommendation include cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Crohn’s disease, autism, a terminal illness where the patient is expected to live for less than one year and a chronic illness where opioids are the standard of care, among others.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and Board of Pharmacy would be responsible for promulgating rules and licensing cannabis businesses, including dispensaries that would need to have a pharmacist on-site at all times of operation.
In an effort to prevent excess market consolidation, the bill has been revised to include language requiring regulators to set limits on the number of businesses a person or entity could hold more than five percent interest in, at the state-level and regionally.
A “Medical Cannabis Advisory Board” would be established, tasked with adding or removing qualifying conditions for the program. The legislation was revised from its earlier form to make it so legislative leaders, in addition to the governor, would be making appointments for the board.
Importantly, the bill omits language prescribing a tax on medical cannabis sales, unlike the last version. The inclusion of tax provisions resulted in the House rejecting the earlier bill because of procedural rules in the South Carolina legislature that require legislation containing tax-related measures to originate in that body rather than the Senate.
Smoking marijuana and cultivating the plant for personal use would be prohibited.
Doctors would be able to specify the amount of cannabis that a patient could purchase in a 14-day window, or they could recommend the default standard of 1,600 milligrams of THC for edibles, 8,200 milligrams for oils for vaporization and 4,000 milligrams for topics like lotions.
Edibles couldn’t contain more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving.
There would also be packaging and labeling requirements to provide consumers with warnings about possible health risks. Products couldn’t be packaged in a way that might appeal to children.
Patients could not use medical marijuana or receive a cannabis card if they work in public safety, commercial transportation or commercial machinery positions. That would include law enforcement, pilots and commercial drivers, for example.
Local governments would be able to ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area, or set rules on policies like the number of cannabis businesses that may be licensed and hours of operation. DHEC would need to take steps to prevent over-concentration of such businesses in a given area of the state.
Lawmakers and their immediate family members could not work for, or have a financial stake in, the marijuana industry until July 2029, unless they recuse themselves from voting on the reform legislation.
DHEC would be required to produce annual reports on the medical cannabis program, including information about the number of registered patients, types of conditions that qualified patients and the products they’re purchasing and an analysis of how independent businesses are serving patients compared to vertically integrated companies.
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A poll released in November found that 78 percent of South Carolina adults, including a majority of Republicans, want to see cannabis legalized for medical purposes. Another 54 percent said that they’re in favor of recreational legalization.
Marijuana reform also played a role in the South Carolina gubernatorial race last year, which saw incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster (R) retain his seat over challenger Joe Cunningham, a former Democratic congressman.
McMaster attempted to dissuade voters from electing Cunningham, in part because of his opponent’s support for marijuana legalization.
Previously, Cunningham was unseated in his congressional reelection race in 2020 by now-Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who strongly supports cannabis legalization and introduced a bill to end prohibition in 2021.
In a post-election interview with Marijuana Moment in November, Mace weighed in on South Carolina cannabis policy, saying “it’s time for our state and move forward” with medical marijuana legalization and that the “vast majority of South Carolinians” back the reform.
After Cunningham came out with a plan to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational purposes, South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick voiced opposition and said the Democratic candidate wants to “play with fire” by embracing the policy change. But notably, Davis came to Cunningham’s defense in 2021.
Davis said at the time that his own party’s stance, particularly as it concerns medical cannabis, is “an intellectually lazy position that doesn’t even try to present medical facts as they currently exist.”
After Davis’s Senate-passed medical cannabis bill was defeated in a House committee, he tried another avenue for the reform proposal, but that similarly failed on procedural grounds.
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Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.