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As South Carolina Lawmakers Urge House Vote On Medical Marijuana Bill, New Poll Shows Strong Bipartisan Support



As South Carolina lawmakers and advocates put pressure on the House to advance a Senate-passed medical marijuana legalization bill, a new poll shows the reform enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support.

The Mason-Dixon Poll, conducted from March 6-11, found that 83 percent of registered voters are in favor of medical cannabis legalization, including 93 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans and 84 percent on independents.

To that end, Sen. Tom Davis (R) was joined by several House lawmakers, the executive director of the SC Compassionate Care Alliance, the state director of Americans for Prosperity and other allies at a press conference on Tuesday to rally support for his medical cannabis bill that he’s advocated for over recent sessions.

“It has been 10 years that I’ve been working on this legislation, but that’s good,” Davis said. “Over the 10 years, we have made this bill very, very tight.”

Rep. Gil Gatch (R) also spoke in favor of the legislation, stating that there are “so many things that are happening in people’s lives that are really a huge burden on not only the people who are suffering from the ailment, but also their family members who see them in pain, and their heart breaks, and they want to be able to step in and do something.”

“I believe that this medical cannabis bill would be the next step,” he said.

Rep. Joe Bustos (R), a military veteran, said he considers medical marijuana “another tool that the medical community can use to provide comfort for those people who are suffering from those ailments.”

SC Compassion President Jill Swing, whose daughter has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, said advocates are “tired of seeing loved ones suffer, families torn apart, and lives destroyed by our state’s current cannabis policy.”

“Seriously ill South Carolinians should not have to break the law or move to another state to access this medically beneficial and often life-saving plant,” she said. “We are thankful that compassionate lawmakers have heard our pleas for help and responded with this commonsense legislation.”

While the Senate approved the medical marijuana bill in February, it still needs to clear the House before potentially being sent to the desk of Gov. Henry McMaster (R)—a prospect that’s far from certain. The Senate had passed an earlier version of the legislation in 2022 but it stalled in the opposite body over a procedural hiccup.

Davis said at the press conference that the legislation has been idle in the House without a committee hearing over the past two months since the latest Senate vote, and “that’s not fair to the people of South Carolina” and it’s “not fair to the patients in South Carolina.”

“Healthcare bureaucrats and czars should not be telling physicians and patients what to do,” the senator added in a press release. “Medical freedom—the primacy of the physician-patient relationship—is something legislators like to say they champion, so let’s empower physicians who think cannabis can be therapeutic for their patients.”

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, which include several specific ailments as well as terminal illnesses and chronic diseases where opioids are the standard of care.

When senators began debating the medical marijuana legislation in February, the body adopted an amendment that clarifies the bill does not require landlords or people who control property to allow vaporization of cannabis products.

As debate on the legislation continued, members clashed over whether the current version of the legislation contains major differences from an earlier iteration that the body passed in 2022.

Certain lawmakers have also raised concerns that medical cannabis legalization would lead to broader reform to allow adult-use marijuana, that it could put pharmacists with roles in dispensing cannabis in jeopardy and that federal law could preempt the state’s program, among other worries.

Here are the main provisions of the bill

  • “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.
  • The legislation would sunset five years after the first legal sale of medical cannabis by a licensed facility in order to allow lawmakers to revisit the efficacy of the regulations.
  • 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.

After Davis’s Senate-passed medical cannabis bill was blocked in the House in 2022, he tried another avenue for the reform proposal, but that similarly failed on procedural grounds.

The lawmaker has called the stance of his own party, particularly as it concerns medical marijuana, “an intellectually lazy position that doesn’t even try to present medical facts as they currently exist.”

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