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South Carolina Senate To Debate Medical Cannabis Bill

South Carolina’s senators will discuss a bill legalizing medicinal marijuana this week. This is after eight years of trying to get the legislation to the floor. Senate Bill 150 would enable patients who have certain conditions which make them unable to smoke cannabis for medical purposes if it is passed. House Bill 3360, a companion bill, is also being considered by the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Senators unanimously agreed last week that the bill should be given special status. However, it faces fierce opposition from South Carolina’s deeply conservative Republicans. Before moving onto other legislation, senators must approve or deny the bill as a priority legislative matter. According to media reports, the debate on this bill will begin either Tuesday or Wednesday.

This measure is known as South Carolina Compassionate Care Act. It was proposed by Republican Senator Tom Davis in 2015. Although the Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted to advance the bill, senators who opposed the measure prevented it from reaching the Senate floor were able to block the legislation’s passage. After the closing of the 2021 legislative sessions, Republican leaders promised Davis the bill would be up for vote again this year.

“If you pound at the door long enough. Make your case. If the public is asking for something, the state Senate owes a debate,” Davis told The Post and Courier. “The people of South Carolina deserve to know where their elected officials stand on this issue.”

South Carolina Medical Cannabis Law Contains Tight Limits

Compassionate Care Act allows patients to legally use medical cannabis. 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.

It would be illegal to smoke cannabis. Patients will instead be able to access medical marijuana products such as topicals, vaporizers and patches. Patients could purchase up to 2 weeks of cannabis products per day.

Additionally, the bill establishes guidelines for doctors who recommend medical cannabis. It also regulates production and sales of medical marijuana. Dispensaries would be required to contract with a state-licensed pharmacist, physician’s assistant or clinical practice nurse with training in the medicinal use of cannabis. To monitor the transfer of medical marijuana products, cannabis products will be tested and labeled. A seed-to-sale track system will be set up to ensure compliance with these requirements. Davis said the legislation would create the nation’s strictest medicinal cannabis program.

“I want to empower physicians. I want to help patients who could benefit from cannabis to alleviate their medical conditions,” Davis told reporters. “But I want it to be tightly regulated and controlled. I don’t want it to be a precursor to adult recreational use.”

Advocates Back Legislation

Jill Swing is the president and founder of South Carolina Compassionate Care Alliance. She supports the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act. Her daughter, she believes, would be able to benefit from medical marijuana.

“Mary Louise shouldn’t have to continue to suffer and other patients across the state shouldn’t continue to suffer when this medication is available in 36 other states,” said Swing.

“I genuinely hope that every single Senator that walks into that chamber opens their minds and their hearts,” she added.

But Davis’ bill is opposed by law enforcement leaders, who cite public safety issues and the fear that permitting medical marijuana will lead to the legalization of recreational cannabis.

“If marijuana is medicine, it should be regulated as every other medicine is regulated. We are aware of no other medication that has to be approved by the General Assembly,” said Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association. “This (bill) includes a lot of other things — including vaping, including edibles. This is not going to your local pharmacy — it’s going to a dispensary. This is not being treated like every other medicine is.”

Kevin Tolson (executive director) of the law enforcement agency stated that legalizing South Carolina’s medical marijuana would increase traffic accidents and criminal activity by the cannabis business.

“I understand supporters of this bill are seeking to bring comfort and relief to friends and family members who are suffering from debilitating illnesses,” Tolson wrote. “But I can’t endorse or even ignore the attempt to provide relief through illegal methods, especially when those attempts will jeopardize public safety.”

Davis however believes the majority of people support reform. A December poll among 300 voters revealed that 54% supported legalizing medicinal cannabis use. Another 14% were undecided.