South Carolina’s Medical Marijuana Bill On Life Support

South Carolina’s Medical Marijuana Bill On Life Support

With a legislative deadline looming for Palmetto State lawmakers, the bill’s sponsor and industry advocates are pushing to get the measure passed in 2023.

For supporters of medical cannabis in South Carolina, this week could prove pivotal in helping them realize their dream of establishing a medical marijuana program in the state. As first reported by Marijuana Moment, proponents and many potential beneficiaries of the proposed legislation held a press conference this week calling for the State Senate to take action on the measure before a critical Thursday deadline.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Tom Davis, in a speech on the Senate floor last week, emphatically implored his fellow Senators to put aside politics and unfounded criticisms of the appropriate vetting of the measure and pass the S.C. Compassionate Care Act, which has been agonizingly evaluated, dissected and amended over eight years in more than a dozen subcommittees at the State House.

If the Senate fails to act by Thursday, the legislation could still receive approval by the chamber later in the year. After that, however, the House would not be allowed to vote on the bill until sometime in 2024, during the latter half of the two-year legislative session.

Underlining the urgency of the situation, Rep. Joe Bustos (R), a fervent champion of the measure in the House of Representatives, said, “I urge our leadership to tackle this bill. Get it passed, and let’s get on with this.”

"I urge our leadership to tackle this bill. Get it passed, and let’s get on with this.”

- SC State Rep. Joe Bustos (R)

This week’s theatrics are all too familiar for Davis and his passionate supporters. An earlier iteration of the bill passed the Senate last session only to fizzle out in the House over yet another procedural hiccup. Nevertheless, despite that setback and the difficult challenges currently plaguing the legislation, other colleagues of Davis in the Senate still hold out hope for the beleaguered measure.

Sen. Penry Gustafson (R) said at that same press conference, “This isn’t the end. We hope to continue to work to pass this bill for the people of South Carolina. I ask for people’s patience. I think it’s going to get through.”

"This isn’t the end. We hope to continue to work to pass this bill for the people of South Carolina. I ask for people’s patience. I think it’s going to get through.”

- SC State Sen. Penry Gustafson (R)

Like many other medical marijuana initiatives in other states, the S.C. Compassionate Care Act would allow patients to procure medicinal cannabis from licensed dispensaries, provided they receive a doctor’s recommendation for treating a qualifying condition.

Those conditions include, among others, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Crohn’s disease, autism, a terminal illness where the patient has less than one year to live, and a chronic illness where opioids are the standard of care.

The bill also includes restrictions on edible serving sizes, packaging and labeling requirements, the types and amounts of THC products prescribable by doctors, and other items relating to taxation, regulation and program limitations. It would also establish the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to oversee the program.

The egregious amount of time it has taken to get the legislation this close to passage once again is profoundly perplexing to industry analysts, lawmakers, and above all else, the voters. In a poll released this past November, 78% of South Carolina adults said they would approve legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. That number included a significant majority of Republicans. The same poll also found that 54% favored adult-use cannabis legalization in the state.

A notoriously conservative state, South Carolina has begun to witness a change in its political landscape and makeup in recent years. For example, this past year’s gubernatorial race between incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster (R) and challenger Joe Cunningham, a former Democratic congressman, saw the two combatants square off over the issue of marijuana reform.

Cunningham, an ardent advocate for both medical and recreational legalization of cannabis, ultimately lost the election. However, following the election, the issue became a hot topic among voters and business leaders in the state.

Even Cunningham’s replacement in Congress, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), is a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization at the state and federal levels. She introduced legislation in 2021 calling for an end to the federal prohibition of cannabis. Moreover, following the contentious battle for her state’s governorship, Mace raised some eyebrows weighing in on the side of her former Democratic adversary, saying, “It’s time for our state to move forward” with medical marijuana legalization and that the “vast majority of South Carolinians” back the reform.

"It’s time for our state to move forward (with medical marijuana legalization). (The) vast majority of South Carolinians (back the reform)."

- Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC)

If history is any indication, Sen. Davis and his supporters may have to prepare themselves for another “we’ll get ‘em next year” familiar refrain come Thursday. Change, particularly in the South, moves at a glacial pace. However, the fact that the current bill has a Republican sponsor and strong support from numerous GOP lawmakers at the State House and in the U.S. Congress is cause for hope and optimism. For now, all eyes are on you, South Carolina.