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A bill to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina formally passed the Senate on third reading Thursday, sending the reform measure to the House of Representatives for consideration.
While final passage in the Senate was expected after Wednesday’s initial bipartisan vote to advance Sen. Tom Davis’ (R) bill to second reading, Thursday’s voice vote means the legislation will now officially go to the another organ of the bicameral legislature.
The Compassionate Care Act was introduced in late 2020 and passed the Senate Medical Affairs Committee last March, but only one senator stopped it from reaching the floor of the chamber in 2021. Since then, the Davises have redoubled efforts to pass the bill. line, arguing that South Carolina voters are ready for what he repeatedly called “the most conservative medical cannabis bill in the nation.”
The senator said last month that House Speaker Jay Lucas (R) had agreed to ‘allow the bill to go through the House process’ if it progresses in the Senate, but a spokesman of the president later told the Charleston Post and Courier that “Sen. Davis does not speak for President Lucas.
Governor Henry McMaster (right) said earlier this week it was too early to comment on the proposal as changes were still being made by lawmakers. “It’s the one that’s going to hinge on a lot of things,” he told a local FOX station, adding that he’ll wait to see the final version before deciding whether to sign off or potentially veto the project. of law if it were to arrive on his desk.
As amended and passed in the Senate, Section 150 would allow eligible patients to possess and purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. Smoking products, as well as home cultivation of cannabis by patients or their caregivers, would be banned. Mere possession of the plant form of cannabis could be punished as a misdemeanor.
Conditions eligible for medical cannabis include cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, sickle cell disease, ulcerative colitis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, autism, nausea in confined or end-of-life patients, muscle spasms, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Terminally ill patients with less than a year to live would also qualify. However, regulators would be allowed to add additional conditions in the future.
The bill would also allow access for patients with “any chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition for which an opioid is currently or could be prescribed by a physician based on generally accepted standards of care,” such as pain. intense or persistent.
“After seven long years of fighting, this Senate vote is truly a historic moment. It brings hope to so many who desperately need safe and legal access to medical cannabis,” said Jill Swing, executive director of the SC Compassionate Care Alliance, in a press release. “I cannot thank Senator Davis enough for his tireless efforts. But I am also grateful to all the members of the Senate whose careful discernment led them to support the Compassionate Care Act. SC House, here we come!”
Medical marijuana would be subject to the six percent state sales tax, and local jurisdictions could levy an additional tax.
The Senate’s final passage comes after weeks of debate on the floor and consideration of dozens of amendments.
While Davis took issue with several more restrictive proposed changes on the floor, he was in favor of some amendments, including an approved revision that makes the Medical Marijuana Act fully expire at the end of 2028. Lawmakers should take positive steps to continue the program the following year.
The bill was also amended to clarify that DUI laws still apply to cannabis, and patients who refuse to submit to a blood test if suspected of impaired driving would lose their license for six months. It would also be an offense for patients and caregivers to have an open container of cannabis in a vehicle unless it is in the trunk, glove compartment or another sealed section.
Rather than having conventional medical marijuana dispensaries that are in place in other legal states, the bill stipulates that there would be so-called cannabis pharmacies. Facilities would be required to have a pharmacist on site at all times, and the South Carolina Board of Pharmacy would enact business regulations.
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People convicted of criminal drug offenses would also be barred from participating in the new industry for a period of 10 years under the proposal.
Companies in the states would also receive licensing priority when the market is established, the intention being to prevent multi-state operators from dominating the industry.
Under the bill, 75% of after-spending tax revenue would go to the state’s general fund, an additional 10% going to drug use disorder treatment service providers, 5% to law enforcement of the state and the rest to cannabis research and drug education. .
For the initial rollout, regulators would approve 15 cannabis growers, 30 processing facilities, one cannabis pharmacy for every 20 state pharmacies, five testing labs, and four cannabis carriers. Lawmakers, rather than regulators, would be allowed to approve additional types of licenses.
Local governments could ban medical cannabis businesses from operating in their jurisdictions under the amended bill, but otherwise it says local land use and zoning charges “shouldn’t be greater for a cannabis-based business than any other similar business.”
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control would oversee licensing and other regulations for the new industry. A newly created Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee would be tasked with adding or removing eligibility requirements. The council would meet at least once a year and would be led by a chairperson appointed by the governor.
“The veteran community is proud of the South Carolina Senate’s approval of our medical cannabis bill. Now let’s expedite the passage of this bill through the House of Representatives,” said Cody Callerman , a military veteran and hemp grower, “My fellow veterans have long awaited our freedom and our choice of medical treatment.”
Davis has been an advocate for medical marijuana in South Carolina since 2014, and at a recent rally he pulled out a binder he said contained eight years of research on the issue. He said he would use this information to “consider all the arguments that have been raised against this bill, and I will show that they cannot stand in the way of facts and evidence.”
He also continued to push back against his own party’s opposition to cannabis legalization, such as calling out an attack ad paid for by the South Carolina Republican Party.
The state’s GOP organization separately criticized a federal legalization bill by U.S. Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican who represents South Carolina in Congress. And last month, cannabis opponents sent out an email accusing Davis of wanting to turn the state into “one big pot party.”
A former White House chief of staff under President Donald Trump also recently called out his home state, the South Carolina Republican Party, for opposing the medical marijuana bill. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s top aide for more than a year and a former congressman, called the legislation “something that deserves discussion and reasoned analysis,” even though it’s not a proposal traditionally seen as a Conservative priority.
Davis called his own party’s maneuvering an “elephant in the room” in the Senate as the floor debate kicked off last month, saying he was offended by the misinformation and planned to refute any misleading claims by the group.
“I will go through all the legal arguments that have been made – lack of medical evidence, unintended social consequences – and take them all up, discuss them and refute them,” the senator said.
A poll released last February found that South Carolina voters support the legalization of medical marijuana by a five-to-one ratio. But the state lacks a citizens’ initiative process that allowed voters in other states to push through the policy change.
Support for the legalization of medical marijuana among South Carolina residents has been particularly stable, as a 2018 Benchmark Research poll also found 72% support for the reform, with nearly two-thirds (63 %) of the Republicans. Davis said last year that if the legislature did not push forward with reform, he would introduce a bill to put the question of legalizing medical marijuana to voters through a referendum.
Also in 2018, 82% of voters in the state’s Democratic primary election voted in favor of legalizing medical cannabis in a nonbinding advisory vote.
Lawmakers have pre-filed four marijuana measures for the 2019 session, but they haven’t moved forward.
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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.