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South Carolina Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill

After weeks of debate, the strict, watered-down bill now goes to the South Carolina House... for yet more debate

Medical Jane

The South Carolina Senate this week approved a medical marijuana bill after three weeks of debate. They sent the proposal to the House for the first time, reports The Post and Courier. And that’s major progress. South Carolina lawmakers made their first attempt at medical Cannabis legislation seven years ago. 

Dissected by lawmakers over two long days of debate, Beaufort Republican Sen. Tom Davis’ bill will cross to the other chamber in a significantly watered-down version. Davis had already described as the “most conservative” medical marijuana law in the nation.

The latest version passed by a 28-15 margin o Feb. 9. The bill reduces the allowable size of grow operations in South Carolina from 15 acres to 2 acres. It also tightly controls the types of facilities that will ultimately supply patients, as well as the medical qualifications for patients to receive marijuana cards.

Strict Limits and Harsh Penalties

The bill also strictly limits the marketing and sale of cannabis products. It tightly regulates grow operations and dispensaries. It caps licenses at three per county. And they must employ security agencies certified by the State Law Enforcement Division.

The bill includes harsh penalties for doctors and patients caught falsifying records.

And it has anti-corruption measures to prevent lawmakers from having a financial stake in medical marijuana operations in the state for the next decade.

Debate Dragged On For Weeks

Davis long claimed he had the votes to pass the bill. But some, like Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, said they were unsure of where they stood until an hour before the vote.

Debate on the measure dragged on for several weeks. It drew supporters as well as protesters from across South Carolina.

Davis, the most visible Republican advocate for medical marijuana, took more than a week to present his bill. Numerous public officials descended on the Statehouse to support or oppose the bill during that process. These included U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-Charleston), state GOP officials, and even Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham.

50+ Late Amendments Offered By Spooked GOP

In the final week of debate, lawmakers spent several marathon days contemplating well over 50 amendments to the bill. Most of those were ridiculous, coming from a frightened handful of pantywaist conservative lawmakers.

Fortunately, most of those efforts to amend the bill failed. This was largely due to Senator Davis’ tight restrictions on access already in the legislation.

But other amendments — like those sponsored by Charles Democrat Sen. Marlon Kimpson — sought to give local, established farmers in the state’s existing hemp industry a competitive advantage over out-of-state firms in receiving grow licenses.

Then There Were The ’Kill Bill’ Amendments

There were also efforts to dismantle the bill entirely.

Little River Republican Sen. Greg Hembree introduced an amendment that would have effectively gutted the bill. It would have replaced it with alternative legislation authorizing South Carolina to “study” medical Cannabis. Extensive peer-reviewed evidence already supports its therapeutic benefits. 

Hembree claimed it was an effort to take a cautious approach to medical marijuana. He is frightened, for some reason, by facilities like grow houses and distribution networks “necessary for full-blown recreational programs.”

It seems not yet to have entered his constricted consciousness that growing medicinal weed also requires — you guess it! — “grow houses and distribution networks.” Holy crap, what a moron.

“We stand at the edge of ‘Big Pot,’” Hembree portentously intoned on the Senate floor. “It will be a permanent, large-scale marijuana industry in South Carolina.”

Why is this supposed to be somehow bad, or frightening? Well, Greg didn’t see fit to tell us. So we are left to wonder.

Let’s Not Deprive Patients Access To Medicine

Lawmakers ultimately rejected Hembree’s amendment by a 26-18 vote. Their rejection came after lengthy arguments from Davis. He said his bill is tightly regulated, so a jump to “recreational marijuana” is impossible.

He also argued Hembree’s amendment — pitched as a means to access Cannabis without breaking federal law — would likely deprive thousands of patients from accessing the marijuana, without providing any further benefit to doctors’ understanding of it.

“Clinical trials are not to provide access,” Davis said. “They are to collect data.” 

Now To The House; No Smoking

S. 150 will now go to the South Carolina House for further debate.

The bill allows patients with qualifying conditions to possess and buy marijuana products from licensed medical dispensaries. The measure doesn’t allow any smokable materials. The law also forbids home cultivation of marijuana by patients or their caretakers

Even merely possessing the plant form of marijuana — by patients! — would be punished as a misdemeanor.

Qualifying Conditions Specified; More Possible

Lawmakers could add more medically qualifying conditions in the future. But the bill already lists cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and other neurological disorders, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, sickle cell anemia, ulcerative colitis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, autism, nausea in homebound or end-of-life patients, muscle spasms and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) provided a patient can prove they had one or more “traumatic events.”

Patients diagnosed with less than one year to live could also qualify.

The bill also allows access to 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,” for example severe or persistent pain.

Governor Won’t Commit

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, said earlier this week it was too early to comment on the proposal, with changes still being made by lawmakers, reports Marijuana Moment.

“This is one that’s going to depend on a lot of things,” he told a local FOX station.

The governor added he’ll wait to see the final version before deciding whether to sign or veto the bill if it lands on his desk.

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