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South Carolina Medical Cannabis Bill Heads to House Floor

After being approved last week by a legislative panel, a bill that legalizes medical marijuana in South Carolina will be up for vote in the House of Representatives. House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee approved the Compassionate Care Act by a vote 15-3.

The legislation would create one of the nation’s strictest medical cannabis programs, allowing only patients with specified serious medical conditions to use a limited selection of cannabis products.

“Anytime as a legislative body we can do something to help people, we ought to give that every consideration,” said state Representative Wendy Brawley as the measure was considered by House lawmakers last week.

Compassionate Care Act, S.150/H. Patients with qualifying medical conditions (S.150/H. 3361) would be allowed to use medicinal cannabis. For a recommendation on medical cannabis, patients will need to visit a physician.

Qualifying debilitating medical conditions include cancer, multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease or disorder (including epilepsy), sickle cell disease, glaucoma, PTSD, autism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cachexia, a condition causing a person to be home-bound that includes severe or persistent nausea, terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year, a chronic medical condition causing severe and persistent muscle spasms or a chronic medical condition for which an opioid is or could be prescribed based on accepted standards of care.

This measure doesn’t allow patients to smoke marijuana, but possession of any plant-derived cannabis products would be considered a crime. Regulated suppliers would produce medical products such as oils, topicals, and vapes. A patient would only be allowed to purchase a 2-week supply at a time.

Senate approves bill in February

After having been classified prior legislation in January, the bill was passed by South Carolina Senate. The original introduction was made by Senator Tom Davis in 2015. Although the Senate Medical Affairs Committee proposed the bill in 2015, it was stopped from reaching the Senate floor. The Republican leaders had promised Davis at the end of the 2021 legislative session that they would bring the bill up for a vote in this year.

To gain the approval of lawmakers in deeply conservative South Carolina, Davis has admitted that the bill would create one of the nation’s most strict medical cannabis programs. Davis stated that the bill was intended to prohibit recreational marijuana use as the House discussed it last week.

“I want people to look at South Carolina’s law and say, ‘If you want a law that helps patients and empowers doctors but doesn’t go down the slope to recreational, this is your bill,’” Davis told his colleagues.

Prior to the vote, members heard Gary Hess from the Louisiana-based Veterans Alliance for Holistic Alternatives. According to Hess, he had to use illicit marijuana to manage the pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he suffered after suffering from a brain injury during the Iraq War.

“Here’s the sad truth, is that if I continue to rely on the VA in the western model of medicine, I would not be standing here in front of you today,” Hess told lawmakers at the committee hearing. “The truth is that the medical efficacy of this plant cannot be denied. Yet here, in South Carolina, veterans returning to their communities after service are being forced to become criminals placing themselves, their families and their children at risk to access this medicine.”

Before approving legislation, the House committee approved 2 amendments. A background check for cannabis distributors would be required. The other amendment would also require security plans to protect their business. Another amendment would require that cannabis products be identified with the ingredients, including the strain of cannabis used in their manufacture.

Many of Representative Vic Dabney’s amendments to the legislation were rejected by the members of the committee. The rest of the amendments were withheld by him, though he said that he’d have other proposed changes when the bill is considered for full House.

“My concern is, across the nation, wherever these bills have passed, a lot of problems develop,” said Dabney. He said he agrees in principle with allowing access to the drug for patients with serious medical conditions, but characterized the legislation as “too broad based.”

Deon Tedder however stated that the legalization and use of South Carolina’s medical cannabis is a good idea.

“I’d rather have people having access to safe use of medical marijuana than have them go out and try to go to another state or illegally obtain marijuana,” said Tedder.