A bill to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina will get priority status and be taken up on special order next week, the measure’s sponsor said at a rally in the state Capitol on Wednesday.
Sen. Tom Davis (R) said that he’s spoken to Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R) about his bill, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, and received a commitment that it would be “one of the very first things we take up” in the chamber this session.
Importantly, he said that there was an agreement to consider the legislation on special order, which means that once it’s taken up, senators will have to vote on it before they move forward with any other piece of legislation.
Davis gave an impassioned speech at the rally alongside patients and advocates. He brought out a large binder that he said contains eight years of research into the issue that he will use to “take on every single argument that has been raised in opposition to this bill, and I’m going to show that they cannot stand in the way of facts and evidence.”
He also said that he’s spoken to House Speaker Jay Lucas (R), who agreed that if the measure advances through the Senate, he will “allow the bill to go to through the House process.”
“I fully expect that, given those commitments, that we’re going to be standing here in three or four months celebrating a bill signing with [Gov. Henry McMaster (R)] to finally make us not one of the 14 states that refuses to acknowledge medicine, but one of the 37 states that has recognized it,” Davis said.
While Davis previously said in May that he was disappointed that the legislation wasn’t considered on the floor before the close of the 2021 session and after clearing the Senate Medical Affairs Committee in March, he’s been encouraged by leadership making commitments to move the bill this year.
The senator has been a strong advocate for his legislation, going so far as to threaten to use his power to block other bills from advancing if his reform proposal was stopped.
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As drafted, the bill would allow patients with qualifying conditions to possess and purchase up to two ounces of cannabis every two weeks.
For the initial rollout, regulators would approve 15 licenses for vertically integrated marijuana businesses that would control production, distribution and sales. More than 100 dispensaries would be licensed to operate under the bill.
The legislation would ban smokable marijuana products and home cultivation.
To that point, Davis pointed out at Wednesday’s rally that this is a very conservative reform proposal that’s even more limited than medical cannabis legislation that advanced out of the Mississippi Senate last week.
Patients and advocates also appeared alongside the lawmaker at the event.
“We are counting on our lawmakers to listen to the many voices of patients who, like my daughter, need a safer, more effective alternative to opioids and other debilitating pharmaceutical drugs and pass the Compassionate Care Act NOW!” Jill Swing, executive director of the S.C. Compassionate Care Alliance, said in a press release.
Candace Carroll, state director at Americans for Prosperity South Carolina, said that Davis’s bill would mean that South Carolina could “ensure more individuals access the most transformative treatments and reduce the harms presented by a robust black market.”
A poll released last year found that South Carolina voters support legalizing medical marijuana by a ratio of five to one. But the state does not have a citizen-led initiative process that has empowered voters in other states to get the policy change enacted.
Support for medical marijuana legalization among South Carolina residents has been notably stable, as a 2018 Benchmark Research poll similarly found 72 percent support for the reform, including nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Republicans.
Also that year, 82 percent of voters in the state’s Democratic primary election voted in favor of medical cannabis legalization in a nonbinding ballot advisory vote. Lawmakers prefiled four marijuana measures for the 2019 session, but they did not advance.
Davis said last year that if the legislature didn’t advance the reform, he’d propose a bill to put the question of medical marijuana legalization to voters through a referendum.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.