South Carolina senators will debate a bill to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis this week after an eight-year effort to bring the proposal to the floor of the state Senate. If passed, Senate Bill 150 would allow patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to use medical cannabis products. A companion measure, House Bill 3361, is also pending in the South Carolina House of Representatives.
Last week, Senators unanimously agreed to assign special order status to the bill, which faces strong opposition in deeply conservative South Carolina. As a legislative priority, senators will be required to approve or reject the bill before moving on to other legislation. Debate on the bill is expected to begin Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, according to media reports.
The measure, known as the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, was first proposed in 2015 by Republican Sen. Tom Davis. In 2018, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee advanced the bill to the Senate floor but senators opposed to the measure blocked the legislation from coming up for debate. At the close of the 2021 legislative session, Republican leaders promised Davis that the bill would come up for a vote this year.
“If you pound at the door long enough. If you 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.”
The Compassionate Care Act would allow patients with one or more qualifying health conditions to use cannabis medicinally. 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.
Smoking cannabis would not be allowed. Instead, patients would have access to medical marijuana products including vaporizers, topicals, and patches. Patients would be allowed to purchase up to a two-week supply of cannabis products at a time.
The bill also establishes rules for physicians to recommend medical cannabis and regulations for the production and sale of medical marijuana, including a requirement that cannabis dispensaries complete a licensing process every two years. 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. Cannabis products would be subject to testing and labeling requirements and a seed-to-sale tracking system would be established to monitor transfers of medical marijuana products. 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.”
The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act is supported by medical cannabis advocates including Jill Swing, the founder and president of the South Carolina Compassionate Care Alliance. She believes her daughter would benefit from medical cannabis.
“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, the executive director of the law enforcement group, said in a statement that legalizing medical cannabis in South Carolina would lead to increased traffic accidents and financial crimes by cannabis businesses.
“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 that public opinion is on the side of reform. In December, a poll of 300 registered voters found that 54 percent favored legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis, with another 14 percent undecided on the issue.
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