A South Carolina Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis (R), would allow patients with qualifying conditions to possess and purchase up to two ounces of cannabis every two weeks.
Members of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee passed the bill in a 9-5 vote.
“You see poll after poll—even in South Carolina, even in the most conservative parts of South Carolina—showing that upwards of 70 percent, in some cases 80 percent, of South Carolinians want doctors to be able to provide this to their patients if in the doctor’s opinion, it can be of benefit,” Davis said.
He also repeatedly made the case that his legislation “is the most conservative medical cannabis bill in the country.”
“I have promised this committee that I was going to come up with a bill that was truly a medical bill,” Davis said. “That it was not a slippery slope to recreational use—was not a wink and a nod to recreational use.”
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 Senate version of the 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.
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The sponsor offered an amendment to the legislation that the panel adopted. It would allocate revenue to cover implementation as well as drug prevention education. Another component specifies that health insurers aren’t required to cover medical cannabis.
The amendment would require “material conformance” with the requirements of the medical marijuana law by before reciprocity for out-of-state patients is grants. It also stipulates that the state law would be repealed if it is deemed to be preempted by federal law in court.
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.
“I feel there is a very good chance we get something passed this session,” Davis said after prefiling this latest legislation in December. “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.”
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 Philip Steffan.