Republican lawmakers in South Carolina have prefiled legislation to legalize medical marijuana in the state next year, saying patients have waited long enough for legal access to the drug.
“It is unacceptable that South Carolinians with serious illnesses have to break the law to alleviate their suffering,” said the legislation’s lead sponsor in the House of Representatives, Rep. Bill Herbkersman (R), who says that marijuana helped his brother treat symptoms related to cancer.
“My brother deserved better. Our friends, family, and neighbors deserve the same options to medicine that are afforded to Americans in 36 other states,” he said. “Waiting any longer will only add to the suffering that is experienced by those who are plagued with debilitating illness.”
Lawmakers filed two versions of what’s being called The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act on Wednesday. Herbkersman’s H. 3361 is the House measure, while Sen. Tom Davis (R) is sponsoring S. 150 in the legislature’s other chamber. The measures are expected to be taken up during next year’s session, which begins in mid-January.
“I feel there is a very good chance we get something passed this session,” Davis said in a statement released on Thursday. “This bill has been fully vetted after five years of testimony and input by various stakeholders. The time has come for lawmakers to get out of the way and allow patients, in consultation with their physicians, to legally and safely access medicinal cannabis.”
South Carolina doesn’t have a citizen-led initiative process, the path by which many states have legalized medical cannabis, but Davis said on Twitter last month that if he can’t get lawmakers to pass the bill outright he will push to get them to at least place the issue on the ballot through a legislature-referred referendum
“I will work on a bill to send the question to the people,” he said.
There’s no citizen-petition process in SC. But if I can’t get it passed by the legislature, I will work on a bill to send the question to the people.
— Tom Davis (@senatortomdavis) November 13, 2020
While the two versions of the legislation introduced this week differ on specifics, both would legalize medical marijuana for patients with qualifying conditions and establish a dispensary model for distribution. Both would also forbid patients from growing the plant at home.
The Senate’s version is the more restrictive of the two bills. Under S. 150, smoking marijuana would remain illegal, and only processed oils, edibles and topical applications would be available to patients. In a 14-day period, patients by default could buy up to two ounces of total THC in ingestible products, 8.2 grams in concentrates meant for vaporization and four grams in topicals, though doctors could adjust individual patient limits.
The House version, meanwhile, would permit marijuana flower, whether smoked or used for other applications, and allow smoking-related paraphernalia. In a 14-day period, patients could buy up to two ounces of dried cannabis or the equivalent amount of edibles or topicals.
Doctors would also have considerably more leeway under the House bill in terms of recommending medical marijuana. While the Senate version only lists specific types of conditions that qualify for cannabis treatment, the House measure also allows physicians to recommend marijuana to any patient with a debilitating condition that the doctor is qualified to treat. It also specifically lists chronic pain as a qualifying condition, which the Senate version does not.
Here’s a closer look at the legislation’s qualifying conditions:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Neurological disease or disorder, including epilepsy
- Sickle cell anemia
- Chronic pain — House version only
- Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Cachexia, or wasting syndrome
- Severe or persistent nausea — Senate version requires patient to be homebound
- Terminal illness with less than a year to live
- A condition causing severe and persistent muscle spasms
- A condition for which opiates could be prescribed
- Any debilitating condition the recommending doctor is qualified to treat — House version only
The legislation would establish a Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to consider issues such as whether new qualifying conditions should be added.
Bill Griffith, a family medicine doctor in Anderson, SC, said in a statement provided by the advocacy group SC Compassionate Care Alliance that legalization would allow patients who are already using medical marijuana to access safe, tested, reliable products through a regulated market.
“The illegality of medical cannabis in our state is forcing many patients to rely on the dangerous underground market to access their medicine,” he said. “South Carolinians deserve the ability to safely and legally use a substance that has been proven to be effective in treating a variety of medical conditions and poses fewer negative side effects than many prescription drugs, especially opioids, which continue to claim many lives.”
Both versions of the bill would initially license one dispensary per 20 pharmacies in the state, as well as 15 cultivation centers, 30 processing facilities, five testing laboratories and four transporters.
Medical marijuana would be taxed a rate of six percent, the same rate the state attaches to non-prescription drugs. Most of the resulting revenue (90 percent) would go to the state’s general fund, with smaller percentages going to medical marijuana research (5 percent), study into how to detect cannabis-impaired driving (3 percent) and drug safety education (2 percent).
Other new cannabis-related bills prefiled in the House ahead of the 2021 session include another medical marijuana bill, H. 3174, known as The Put Patients First Act, as well as H. 3202, which would allow a select pool of military veterans to possess cannabis. Another bill, H. 3228, would decriminalize possession up to an ounce of marijuana or hashish. In the Senate, prefiled bills include S. 335—a proposal by Sen. Mia McLeod (D) to permit marijuana for by adults 21 and over and launch a regulated retail cannabis industry—and S. 268, which would put a nonbinding advisory question on the state’s 2022 ballot asking whether voters favor legalizing marijuana for all adults.
— Mia McLeod (@MiaforSC) December 10, 2020
While South Carolina Republicans, such as Davis, have attempted to legalize medical marijuana in the past—getting as far as a successful Senate subcommittee vote in 2019—they still face pushback from within their own party.
Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has deferred to law enforcement leaders, such as State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, who has said South Carolina shouldn’t legalize until after the federal government reclassifies marijuana.
“As long as Keel opposes it,” the Charleston Post and Courier reported, “so too will Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he does not want to get out of law enforcement on the issue.”
Davis in the Senate, meanwhile, said he thinks it’s a political miscalculation by his fellow Republicans to oppose legalization.
“I think it’s a winning issue for them, and I think it’s a strategic mistake to cede the issue to Democrats,” he told the newspaper. “What you’re talking about here is letting an individual, in consultation with their physician, decide for themselves what’s best. I’m not sure you can get more fundamental to limited government than that.”
A 2018 Benchmark Research poll found that 72 percent of South Carolinians support medical marijuana legalization, including nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Republicans, SC Compassionate Care said. That same year, 82 percent of voters in the Democratic primary election voted in favor of medical cannabis legalization in a nonbinding ballot advisory vote.
That strong support encouraged supportive lawmakers, who prefiled four marijuana measures two years ago, as the 2019 session was about to begin. While that legalization push fell short, advocates say voters’ overwhelming approval of legalization ballot measures at the polls last month—including a medical marijuana question in Mississippi—bode well for this year’s effort.
“In Mississippi, more than 2/3 of voters opted to enact a medical cannabis measure. 74% of Americans now live in a state that allows medicinal use of cannabis,” Davis wrote on Twitter last month in response to a political mailer criticizing his work on the issue. “2021 simply MUST be the year we get it done.”
In Mississippi, more than 2/3 of voters opted to enact a medical cannabis measure. 74% of Americans now live in a state that allows medicinal use of cannabis. 2021 simply MUST be the year we finally get it done. You tired of sleazy anonymous mailers spreading misinformation? pic.twitter.com/ZUgNkaxNgI
— Tom Davis (@senatortomdavis) November 13, 2020
Congressional observers, meanwhile, are watching South Carolina to see whether legalization there could change the calculus at the federal level, where the U.S. Senate is seen as the last remaining obstacle to federal cannabis legalization. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a high-ranking senator who represents the state and chairs the key Senate Judiciary Committee, has consistently opposed legalization, and some advocates wonder whether a policy shift in Graham’s home state could push him to reconsider letting cannabis advance in his panel should his party maintain a majority in the body following next month’s runoff elections for two Georgia seats.
Nearly two-thirds of all voters, and 51 percent of Republicans, said in a recent national poll that they support a House-passed bill to federally legalize marijuana.
Graham’s challenger in the last election, Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, made legalization—not just of medical marijuana, but for adult use, too—a key part of his campaign. “I think we should legalize, regulate and tax marijuana like we do for alcohol and tobacco,” he said in July. “There is simply no reason to lock people up over this issue.”
Top Pennsylvania Official Restores Marijuana Flag After GOP Lawmakers Allegedly Got It Removed
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D) marijuana and LGBTQ flags are waving again at his Capitol office after state officials removed them Monday night, allegedly at the behest of certain GOP lawmakers who feel strongly about the activist decor.
The day after their removal, the lieutenant governor proudly announced on Twitter that he’d restored the flags—one rainbow-themed and the other displaying cannabis leaves.
“I really can’t emphasize this enough, my issue isn’t with the individuals that came to take them down. They’re kind of caught in the middle of it so it’s not them,” Fetterman told Marijuana Moment. “But the Pennsylvania GOP exerted enough pressure and made enough drama so they felt that they needed to do something and they took them down. When I realized that, I just put them back up.”
I even had to rehang this one. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/NPuADtb1Lt
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021
The flags have been an unusual source of controversy for some members of the legislature. In November, Republican lawmakers passed budget legislation that included a provision targeting his cannabis-themed office decor, making it so only the American flag, the Pennsylvania flag and those honoring missing soldiers could be displayed at the Capitol building.
It’s kinda flattering that they changed Pennsylvania law just for me. 🥺👉👈
Speaking of changing laws…
I’ll take them down when we get:
LEGAL WEED 🟩 FOR PA + EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW for LGBTQIA+ community in PA.
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) November 20, 2020
“There’s one great way to get them down for good and we can end this,” the lieutenant governor said. And that’s by enacting legislative reform.
“It shouldn’t have to be this way. These are not controversial things. These are very fundamentally American things. It’s freedom-related. It’s individuality-related. It’s jobs. It’s revenue,” he said. “These are not controversial, but these flags are. For the party that thinks it’s A-OK to talk about how an election that was secure was rigged, they sure have a real thin skin when it comes to free speech.”
A spokesperson for the state Department of General Services confirmed to Marijuana Moment that it was tasked with removing the flags and did so “in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.” Asked whether lawmakers from the legislature’s Republican majority influenced the recent action, the representative repeated: “All I can say is the Department of General Services removed the flag in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of the Senate majority leader and House speaker for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.
Defying the flag order is par for the course for Fetterman, a longtime marijuana reform advocate who is weighing a run for the U.S. Senate. His enthusiastic embrace of the issue has often put him in the spotlight, and he said he’d take that advocacy to Congress if he ultimately decides to enter the race and is elected.
“I’m the only person that’s actually called out my own party for its failure to embrace it when it is appropriate,” he said, referring to his repeated criticism of the Democratic National Committee’s rejection of a pro-legalization platform. “There has never been—or would ever be—a more committed advocate to ending this awful superstition over a plant for the United States.”
🚨🚨 PENNSYLVANIA *AND* DNC IS BEING LAPPED ON LEGAL WEED BY THE DAKOTAS NOW
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021
On his campaign website, the lieutenant governor touts his role in leading a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on the policy change. He noted that, following his efforts, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) “announced his support for legalization for the first time.”
It remains to be seen when legalization will happen in Pennsylvania, however. Despite Fetterman and Wolf’s support for legalization and the pressure they’re applying on lawmakers, convincing Republican legislative leaders to go along with the plan remains a challenge.
Fetterman previously told Marijuana Moment that pursuing reform through the governor’s budget request is a possibility. But in the meantime the administration is exploring the constitutionality of issuing “wholesale pardons for certain marijuana convictions and charges.”
Since adopting a pro-legalization position in 2019, Wolf has repeatedly called on the legislature to enact the policy change. He’s stressed that stressed that marijuana reform could generate tax revenue to support the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that ending criminalization is necessary for social justice.
In September, he took a dig at the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on reform in the previous session. And in August, he suggested that the state itself could potentially control marijuana sales rather than just license private retailers as other legalized jurisdictions have done.
Fetterman previously said that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—where voters approved a legalization referendum in November—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.
He also hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from the lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.
Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the policy change, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Twitter/John Fetterman.
Hawaii Could Legalize Psychedelic Mushroom Therapy Under New Senate Bill
Hawaii could legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapy under a newly filed bill in the state legislature.
The measure, if approved, would direct the state Department of Health to “establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn,” two psychoactive substances produced by certain fungi.
It would also remove the two compounds from the state’s list of Schedule I controlled substances and create a seven-person psilocybin review panel to assess the impacts of the policy change.
Few other specifics are provided in the bill, SB 738, introduced in the state Senate on Friday. It doesn’t specify who would qualify for the therapy, for example, or how precisely the drugs—which remain federally illegal—would be administered. The legislation simply says the Department of Health “shall adopt rules” in accordance with state law.
The new legislation comes less than a year after Hawaii lawmakers introduced bills to begin studying the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms with the goal of eventually legalizing them, though those measures did not advance.
Entheogens—including other substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine—have emerged as a promising treatment for severe depression, anxiety and other conditions, although research remains ongoing.
In November, voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy that the state is now in the process of implementing.
The new Hawaii bill was introduced by Sens. Stanley Chang, Laura Clint Acasio, Les Ihara Jr. and Maile Shimabukuro, all Democrats. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, according to the state legislature’s website.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
The Hawaii proposal is one of a growing number of broader reform bills to have been introduced across the country this year as the debate on drug policy moves beyond marijuana. A measure introduced in New York earlier this month would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance, instead imposing a $50 fine. Similar measures are expected to be introduced in California and Washington State this year.
A Florida lawmaker recently announced plans to introduce legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state.
Lawmakers in New Jersey last month sent a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy (D) that would reduce criminal charges for the possession of psilocybin, but so far Murphy hasn’t signed the measure.
Voters, meanwhile, have been broadly supportive of drug reform measures in recent years. In addition to the psilocybin. measure, Oregon voters in November also approved an initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs. Washington, D.C. voters overwhelmingly enacted a proposal to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics.
Despite the growing discussion of drug reform at statehouses across the country, some high-profile advocates are setting their sights on the 2022 election. Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner, a key financial backer of successful reform efforts in Oregon, told Marijuana Moment last month that he’s expecting both Washington state and Colorado voters will see decriminalization or psilocybin therapy on their 2022 ballots.
Meanwhile, a new advocacy group is pushing Congress to allocate $100 million to support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman
Minnesota Governor Urges Lawmakers To Pursue Marijuana Legalization Amid Budget Talks
The governor of Minnesota on Tuesday implored the legislature to look into legalizing marijuana as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice.
During a briefing focused on his budget proposal for the 2022-23 biennium, Gov. Tim Walz (D) was asked whether he is open to allowing sports betting in the state to generate tax revenue. He replied he wasn’t closing the door on that proposal, but said he is more interested in seeing lawmakers “take a look at recreational cannabis.”
Not only would tax revenue from adult-use marijuana “dwarf” those collected through sports betting, he said, but legalization would also help address “the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws.”
Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization below:
“I will say this, I will certainly leave open that possibility. Our neighboring states have done both of those things,” Walz said of legalizing sports gambling and cannabis. “I obviously recognize that that’s not a 100 percent slam dunk for people, and they realize that there’s cost associated with both. But my message would be is, I don’t think this is the time for me to say I’m shutting the door on anything.”
The Minnesota governor did say in 2019, however, that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Earlier this month, the House majority leader said he would again introduce a bill to legalize marijuana in the new session. And if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the reform, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said this month that “Senate Republicans remain the biggest obstacle to progress on this issue.”
“Minnesota’s current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good,” she told The Center Square. “By creating a regulatory framework we can address the harms caused by cannabis and establish a more sensible set of laws to improve our health care and criminal justice systems and ensure better outcomes for communities,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), for his part, said that while he would be “open to expanding medical use or hearing criminal justice reforms,” he doesn’t “believe fully legalized marijuana is right for the state.”
“Other states that have legalized marijuana are having issues with public safety,” he argued, “and we are concerned that we haven’t fully seen how this works with employment issues, education outcomes and mental health.”
Last month, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Another factor that might add pressure on lawmakers to enact the reform is the November vote in neighboring South Dakota to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Also next door, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is pushing lawmakers to enact marijuana reform and recently said that he is considering putting legalization in his upcoming budget request.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.