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South Carolina Can Legalize Medical Marijuana In 2021, Republican Lawmakers Say

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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.

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:

  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurological disease or disorder, including epilepsy
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Autism
  • Chronic pain — House version only
  • Glaucoma
  • 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.

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.”

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.”

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Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer

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“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”

By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury

Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.

The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.

Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.

The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.

The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.

“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.

Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.

They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.

“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.

This story was first published by Virginia Mercury,

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DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.

In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.

DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.

It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.

LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.

Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.

Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:

For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:

And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:

DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.

“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.

“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”

Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:

Substance 2021
2022 proposed
Marijuana 2,000,000 3,200,000
Marijuana extract 500,000 1,000,000
All other tetrahydrocannabinol 1,000 2,000
Psilocybin 1,500 3,000
Psilocyn 1,000 2,000
MDMA 50 3,200
LSD 40 500
Mescaline 25 100
DMT 50 250
5-MeO-DMT 35 550
MDA 55 200

A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.

It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

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Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred

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The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.

Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.

Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.

But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.

“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”

That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.

“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.

A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.

Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.

If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.

The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.

Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.

A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.

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