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South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Won’t Receive House Vote By End Of Session, Committee Chair Says



Lawmakers on a South Carolina House committee took testimony on Tuesday on a Senate-passed bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state, but the panel’s chair says it’s unlikely the proposal will actually receive a vote in her chamber by the end of the legislative session.

At a roughly two-and-a-half-hour hearing, the House Medical Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee took testimony from doctors, patients and members of the public. After the hearing, however, Rep. Sylleste Davis (R), who chairs the panel, told reporters that the body is unlikely to meet again before lawmakers adjourn on May 9.

“We just don’t have a lot of time,” Davis said, according to The Post and Courier. “But I mean, I do think this was a worthwhile effort. It certainly isn’t time wasted. We learned a lot today and got some good information.”

The bill’s sponsor, meanwhile—Sen. Tom Davis (R), has said he was frustrated by how long it took for his measure to be taken up by House lawmakers following its passage by the Senate.

“I intentionally, you know, got the Senate to move it up and move it quickly,” he told SC Public Radio. “It got passed out, I think, the first or second week in February to get it over to them in time. And, so, they’ve had over two months, and it’s just been sitting in committee. And, look, that is frustrating.”

The House committee held an initial last week, taking testimony from medical experts and law enforcement. On Tuesday, the committee opened comments to the broader public, drawing patients, veterans, medical professionals and various other advocates.

There was little discussion from lawmakers themselves, though some asked questions of those who testified.

Following the first speaker, for example—Bill Lynch, a clinical pharmacist in Philadelphia who warned of a litany of individual health and public safety dangers that he said legalization would worsen—Rep. Wendell Jones (D) asked whether the majority of the problems Lynch cited were about medical patients or recreational consumers.

Lynch replied that recreational users made up the bulk of the cases with negative outcomes—involving heart trouble among young adults, increased risk of psychosis and schizophrenia as well as heightened violence, he said—but added: “That does not mean you cannot have some of these cardiovascular and mind-altering events happen for medically prescribed” marijuana.

Rep. Heath Sessions (R), meanwhile, queried Lynch about his comments that the pharmacist currently dispenses synthetic cannabinoids in his practice.

“Did you mention that you can prescribe synthetic THC?” the lawmaker asked.

Lynch confirmed that his clinic does provide the pharmaceutical Marinol, a form of synthesized THC, and the cannabis-derived drug Epidiolex, a purified CBD product. “Those two products do exist,” he said, “and are approved prescriptions that I do give out and dispense at the hospital. But they’re the only two that are quote-unquote ‘isolated forms of marijuana’ that we use.”

Passed by the Senate in February, the bill languished in the House for weeks until it was first taken up in committee earlier this month.

Davis, the Senate sponsor, has pointed out that there are just a few weeks left in the session to get the bill through the full chamber before potentially going 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.

“I just implore you to please send [S. 423] to the House so that the full body of legislators can give it the vetting, and hopefully the support that the Senate did after six years of contentious consideration,” said Margaret Richardson, a patient with trigeminal neuralgia—a chronic pain disorder—who’s worked for years to bring medical marijuana to South Carolina.

Among the public, the reform enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in the state, with the latest medical cannabis legalization poll finding support among 93 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of independents.

Broadly, 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.

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

David Mangone, a legalization advocate who began his career in South Carolina before moving to Washington, D.C., remarked that “versions of this bill have come up before in the statehouse, but this is really the first time where we are sitting with a change in federal status.”

Referring to the announcement that the Drug Enforcement Administration had given the OK to moving marijuana to Schedule III, Mangone encouraged the Senate lawmakers to “read at least the summary of the 250 pages put together finding that there is a currently accepted medical use and an abuse potential lower than drugs in Schedule I and Schedule II.”

Two speakers—one a patient with multiple sclerosis, another a 26 year old with degenerative disc disorder—shared how experiences in California’s legal marijuana market led them to believe that cannabis could offer more relief for their ailments than the prescription drugs they were taking.

“I was off of opioids within, I want to say, a month. I did not have hardly as severe withdrawal symptoms because of it,” said Wade Tolleson, who began using opioids for his back pain when he was 18.

“Even though I have doctors that will look me dead in the eye and tell me that medical cannabis would be better for me in the long run, they tell me their hands are tied,” Tolleson told the panel. “Basically my future looks like either living with more degenerative discs and a lot of pain or they want to do double triple fusions. At 26 I won’t be able to even pick up a child.”

Opponents of the bill who spoke at the hearing shared stories of family members whose lives they said were destroyed by cannabis use, for example as the result of suicidal ideation.

Others granted that marijuana isn’t a cure-all but said patients deserve to have access to it as part of a treatment regimen.

“Cannabis isn’t a perfect medicine,” said Jennifer Kovacs, a clinical pharmacist who works with the cannabis industry. “But it certainly has a better safety profile than most pharmaceuticals dispensed, including opiates and benzos. Cannabis has multi-target therapy. Pharmaceuticals do not.”

But critics warned that whole plant cannabis medicine, with its mixture of hundreds of compounds, departs too much from established pharmaceutical standards to be embraced as a mainstream treatment.

A number of other opponents spoke against the medical marijuana proposal on religious and family-values grounds.

“From our perspective, I want to say, first of all, that we pray for our legislators, because we know you are leaders and you’re guides and, biblically, you’re actually shepherds,” said Steve Pettit, the president of the Palmetto Family Council, telling lawmakers that “we represent the families of the state in many ways.”

Though his wife has had multiple sclerosis and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and currently has a type of carcinoma, Pettit said, “we would be very opposed to the approach of medical marijuana.”

“We know that from a biblical perspective that a being involved in hallucinogenic drugs is a sinful behavior,” he said, “because even drunkenness is considered sinful behavior.”

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.

Despite strong support among the public, many in South Carolina’s law enforcement community have come out in opposition to the reform.

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

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

Other commenters, however, pushed back against those claims.

Retired Chief Jeffrey Moore, Lewis’s predecessor at SCSA, 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,” Moore said. Cannabis “gave him a relief from the nightmares, the grief, the constant tears—gave him a chance to put his life back together.”

Prakash Nagarkatti, a professor of medicine at the University of South Carolina, 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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

DEA, FDA And Other Agencies To Discuss Marijuana’s Potential To Treat Pain At Upcoming Federal Research Meeting

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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