The debate over legalized medical marijuana in South Carolina
South Carolina lawmakers will get their first look next week at a proposed bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use when state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, files the S.C. Compassionate Care Act on Tuesday.
State Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, is filing the same bill in the S.C. House. He is chairman of the House Judicial Committee
The two will host a press conference Tuesday.
The proposed law would be one of the most restrictive in the country, requiring the approval of a medical doctor and two doctors for young adults aged 18 to 23.
While dispensaries would be located in every South Carolina county, the marketing and smoking of leaf marijuana would be prohibited. Only products derived from marijuana, such as oils and topical creams, could be marketed or purchased.
The bill mirrors a version passed by key House and Senate committees last year. However, the legislative session expired before it could be debated on the floor of the S.C. Senate or S.C. House.
The bill has to restart in committee in this new session of the S.C. General Assembly. But supporters are hopeful the bill will pass and be signed into law by the end of the two-year session.
“This bill has been heard for several years now and made it to the floor of both houses,” said Janel Ralph of Conway, chairwoman of the Compassionate South Carolina lobbying group and owner of Palmetto Synergistic Research, which produces Palmetto Harmony CBD hemp oil.
“We’re closer than we have ever been,” she said.
However, the bill has stiff opposition, most notably from the state’s top cop, State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel. Keel has said that legalization of marijuana for medical use opens a “Pandora’s box of consequences” and shouldn’t be legalized in South Carolina until it is legalized federally.
“It’s a public safety issue,” he said. “Nobody has convinced me that it does anything good for us.”
Gov. Henry McMaster has said he would follow law enforcement’s lead in the debate.
And the S.C. Medical Association opposes the bill because marijuana isn’t approved and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Our objection is grounded in the notion that marijuana is not a proven medicine and doctors should not be the access point for that,” said Patrick Dennis, the group’s general counsel and senior vice president for advocacy and communications..
But Davis, the Senate bill’s sponsor, countered that several polls have shown that a super majority of South Carolinians favor legalization of marijuana for medical use. Last month, a Benchmark Research poll showed that 72 percent of 400 South Carolinians polled support legalization, including 84 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 63 percent of Republicans.
“This is South Carolina, not California or Colorado, and what the vast majority of people in our state want is a socially conservative medical marijuana law, one that provides medical patients truly in need with relief but draws a bright line against recreational use by imposing strict penalties,” Davis said.
He also noted the bill includes SLED and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control in every step of the process from production to processing to distribution.
The bill will be debated first in the House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee and the Senate Medical Affairs Committee.
Its major tenets are:
▪ Marijuana can’t be sold or smoked in leaf form, but can only be used in forms such as vaporized oil, gel caps, suppositories, patches or topical creams.
▪ The marijuana would have to be prescribed by an doctor in a “bona fide” relationship with a patient with a “debilitating medical condition.” Those qualifying conditions, such as PTSD, epilepsy and glaucoma, are listed in the bill.
▪ Registered patients or caregivers would be able to possess the equivalent of up to 2 ounces of marijuana.
▪ Patients between 18 and 23 must have certification letters from two doctors. Younger patients would have to have the treatments dispensed by a registered caregiver, such as a parent.
▪ Proceeds from the sale of medical marijuana products would be split between SLED, DHEC, the general fund and medical cannabis research and development.
▪ DHEC would administer the program. SLED would monitor it.
▪ The program would also be overseen by a Medical Cannabis Advisory board with representation from SLED, DHEC and eight other members nominated by the governor and approved by the Senate.
▪ DHEC would be required to license a minimum of one dispensary in each county and a maximum of one dispensary for every 20 active pharmacy licenses.
▪ The dispensaries would be privately owned and free-standing.
▪ DHEC would form a commission to oversee the licensing of those dispensaries.
▪ The state would also license five laboratories to test cannabis products to ensure proper labeling.
▪ DHEC would license 15 marijuana cultivation centers and 30 processing facilities.
▪ Each dispensary would contract or employ a pharmacist, physician assistant or clinical practical nurse.