SC Senate sends medical marijuana bill over to House of Representatives

Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 7:53 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The bill to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina is now in the hands of the state’s House of Representatives.

The Senate voted late Wednesday night to pass S.150, the SC Compassionate Care Act, in a 28-15 vote, with senators from both parties voting both for and against it, and gave the bill a routine third reading Thursday to send it to the lower chamber.

While Wednesday’s vote was historic in South Carolina, where medical marijuana legislation had never advanced so far as to get a debate on the Senate floor before this year, the proposal still needs to clear a few hurdles before it could become law.

It would have to move through a House subcommittee, then a committee, then be passed by the full House of Representatives before it would reach the governor’s desk.

The office of Speaker of the House Jay Lucas, R – Darlington, said the bill will be assigned to a committee next Tuesday but that they did not have comment on its future past that point.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Tom Davis, R – Beaufort, has been pushing for the legislation for seven years and has described it as the strictest and most conservative medical marijuana legislation in the country, compared to the 37 states where it is already legal.

The bill only allows for use in oils, salves, patches, and vaporizers, so smoking marijuana would remain illegal.

A dozen medical conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy, would qualify for prescriptions, which doctors would need to approve in person.

Senators signed off on these terms after three long weeks of debate.

“Even those that were opposed to the bill, I mean, they could’ve just been opposed. They could’ve ranted against it, they could’ve tried to delay things. They didn’t. They expressed their concerns, but what they then did is dug in and tried to make the bill better. And so, what you saw over the last three weeks is what’s supposed to happen in a representative democracy,” Davis said Thursday.

The bill was heavily amended during debate Tuesday and Wednesday, with more than 70 amendments proposed overall.

Among the changes that were approved in the bill in its current form, priority for the limited number of grow licenses would be given to established South Carolina farmers; cities and counties could opt out and prohibit medical marijuana from being used in their jurisdictions; a 6% sales tax would be tacked on; and pharmacists would play a bigger role, as only certain licensed pharmacies would be able to dispense the drug.

“I think that brought a lot of votes onto the side of the bill because they recognize, on the front end, that it was very conservative, that the physicians had to have an in-patient diagnosis. They had to go ahead and certify that a patient had a qualifying condition,” Davis said. “But on the dispensing end, we really needed a medical professional to be there to address some of the concerns, so I think that was the biggest thing that changed.”

If the bill does not pass the House and reach Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk by the end of the legislative session in May, it dies, and lawmakers would have to begin this process over again next January, including passing the legislation through the Senate once more.

McMaster told reporters Tuesday that it was too early to know if he would sign or veto medical marijuana legislation.

“It’s premature to say. Have to see what’s in a bill, if there is one,” he said.

Davis said he respects the House’s process and would make himself available to members as they consider the legislation, and that he was optimistic about what the governor may do if it reaches him.

“I really do think that this bill is so well-drawn at this point in time, and it addresses all the concerns that have been advanced, that I do think it’s something that Gov. McMaster will ultimately sign,” Davis said.

Some conservative groups and state law enforcement have largely opposed this bill.

SLED Chief Mark Keel has said he is concerned about the short- and long-term effects medical marijuana could have on the state, especially its children.

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