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South Carolina House Panel Takes Up Senate-Passed Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill After Months Of Delay



A South Carolina House committee has taken up a GOP-led medical marijuana legalization bill—the first action the legislation has seen in the chamber since being approved by the Senate months ago.

Members heard from multiple medical experts and law enforcement officials, including a retired chief of the state sheriffs’ association who gave impassioned testimony in favor of the reform while discussing how cannabis saved his son and could’ve helped his late wife with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The legislation from Sen. Tom Davis (R) has been billed as strictly conservative, but it’s stalled in the House since February. Now the measure has received consideration from lawmakers in the House Medical Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee.

With just three weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers have little time to waste to get the legislation to the desk of Gov. Henry McMaster (R). Any amendments made in the House would mean that it’d need to return to the Senate for concurrence,

Davis also pointed out over the weekend that, at the same time that an Indian tribe in neighboring North Carolina is opening its first medical cannabis dispensary, his “even-tighter” bill has laid idle in the “freedom loving House,” despite recent polling that shows the reform enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in his state.

The South Carolina Senate had passed an earlier version of the legislation in 2022 but it stalled in the opposite body over a procedural hiccup.

Overall, the current 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.

Sheriff Duane Lewis of Berkeley County, representing the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association (SCSA), testified in opposition to the proposal, arguing that marijuana is a gateway drug and that the proposed reform “would only exacerbate existing challenges and jeopardize safety.”

That’s what made the testimony from Lewis’s predecessor, retired Chief Jeffrey Moore, all the more compelling when he came out in strong support of the medical cannabis bill, describing how his son struggled with alcohol abuse after experiencing significant trauma during military service in Iraq, only to find recovery with the help of marijuana he obtained legally in Michigan.

“Marijuana saved his life. I’m not going to talk about all the anecdotes of other people. I’m not going to talk about statistics,” he said. Cannabis “gave him a relief from the nightmares—the grief the constant tears gave him a chance to put his life back together.”

Meanwhile, Prakash Nagarkatti, a distinguished professor of medicine at the University of South Carolina, pushed back on the current SCSA chief’s perspective and defended the therapeutic potential of cannabis for dozens of health conditions.

“People who are healthy do not have a right to tell people who are sick and say that, ‘No you cannot have this plant, which has the medicinal value, because if you start using this, we who are healthy will also start abusing it,'” he said. “I don’t think the society should be made in such such a way that we decline any type of medicine that provides relief for patients who have no other source of medicines available to treat that pain as well as debilitating conditions.”

Stephen Cutler, dean of USC’s School of Pharmacy, echoed Nagarkatti’s points and argued that, just as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a CBD isolate as an epilepsy treatment option, he anticipates “we will see, in our lifetime, new drugs come from cannabis.”

Mark Keel, chief of the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED), also voiced opposition to the medical cannabis bill, stating that, “once we go down that road, we’re not gonna be able to claw it back.”

Rep. Marvin Smith (R) told the chief that while he is “not in favor or in support of legalizing marijuana usage throughout the state,” it is “impossible not to empathize with the stories that we hear from families who were in the oftentimes end-of-life situations, are dealing with significant chronic pain issues and seizure issues.”

“It’s really, really difficult for me to just totally dismiss this bill as as an elected official—to say that it’s not an issue that we need to deal with. I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “We’re here to serve all the populations.”

Teshieka Curtis-Pugh, executive director of the South Carolina Nurses Association, told the committee that “the nurses of South Carolina support this bill.”

“We believe that it’s time for South Carolina to be added to the states that put compassionate care at the forefront of medical provisions of care and allow the use of medical cannabis for the people of our great state,” she said.

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.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 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.

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.”

Congressional Progressive Caucus Says Democrats Can Legalize Marijuana If They Win House And Senate Majorities In November Election

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