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.”
Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill
The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.
His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.
“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.
I have filed #SAFEBanking as an amendment to #AmericaCOMPETES b/c cannabis-related businesses – big and small – are in desperate need of access to capital & the banking system in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner & compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace.
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) January 28, 2022
“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”
It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.
The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.
Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.
In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.
Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures
Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.
This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.
The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.
CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.
“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”
The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.
Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.
A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.
Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.
Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.
A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”
While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.
The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.
“The higher the content of THC, the greater the likelihood that you will become addicted to the drug… The content of THC has gone up at least 4-fold.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.
The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.
That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.
“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.
Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.
“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”
The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.
She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”
However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.
“We need to provide them [addicts] with treatment, so just to say ok we are going to liberalize everything… and not support treatment for those people under those conditions, I actually think it is quite irresponsible.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of NIDA
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.
She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.
Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.