If other South Carolina senators move to block a bill to legalize medical marijuana, its sponsor said on Tuesday that he would use his power to stop every other piece of legislation on the chamber’s calendar in protest.
“We’re going to get this bill passed,” Sen. Tom Davis (R), who filed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, said at a press conference with supporters. “And if there are some up on the Senate floor that are still in this reefer madness, drug war mentality and block and stand in the way of this bill, I will exercise my rights as a senator to respond in kind to every single other bill on this calendar.”
Watch the senator discuss his medical cannabis legalization bill, around 4:00 into the video below:
Sen. Greg Hembree (R) said on Monday that he intended to block the cannabis legislation, which is on the Senate calendar after clearing the Senate Medical Affairs Committee in a 9-5 vote last week, from proceeding further. If he uses his authority to stop consideration as a single senator, it would require a three-fifths majority of the chamber to move ahead on the bill.
Davis, at the press conference, said that federal prohibition was imposed under the Nixon administration in order to “punish” the president’s political enemies—but even so, the senator is singularly focused on lifting that prohibition for medical use. He has taken pains to argue that his measure is not a “slippery slope” to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
“We need to get this bill passed. I understand what South Carolinians want,” he said. “They want to empower doctors, they want to help patients, they do not want recreational use.”
The senator’s legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to possess and purchase up to two ounces of cannabis every two weeks.
During last week’s committee hearing, Davis repeatedly made the case that his bill “is the most conservative medical cannabis bill in the country.”
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.
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Davis’s legislation would ban smokable marijuana products, while a separate House bill that’s pending would give patients that option. Home cultivation would be prohibited under both versions.
Additionally, the Senate version lists specific types of conditions that qualify for cannabis treatment, whereas the House measure would also allow physicians to recommend marijuana to any patient with a debilitating condition that the doctor is qualified to treat.
South Carolina is one of a select few states without an effective medical cannabis program, though it does have a limited CBD law on the books.
A poll released in February 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.
The sponsor also said that if the legislature doesn’t advance the reform, he’d propose a bill to put the question of medical marijuana legalization to voters through a referendum.
A coalition of advocates for health care and criminal justice reform, as well as veterans groups, have recently stepped up their push to get medical cannabis legalized in South Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.