SC MMJ Bill Gets First Hearing

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A six-member state House panel will decide this week whether to advance a Senate-approved proposal that would legalize the growing, selling and use of certain forms of marijuana only for specific medical diagnoses and symptoms in South Carolina.

Named the “Compassionate Care Act” — S. 150, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort — the legislation is scheduled for discussion by a House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs subcommittee at 9 a.m. Thursday. The panel will be chaired by state Rep. Chris Hart, D-Richland.

South Carolinians who suffer from specific medical conditions — those can include cancer, multiple sclerosis, post traumatic stress disorder, chronic medical conditions causing serious muscle spasms and any chronic or debilitating condition where an opioid is prescribed — would be able to access specific forms of marijuana only through a licensed doctor in person.

Patients would only have access to a two-week supply of marijuana — in the form of oils, vaporizers, salves, lotions and creams and patches — at specific pharmacies.

The bill includes a 6% sales tax and would give cities and counties the power to prohibit marijuana in their areas of control.

Supporters of the bipartisan medical marijuana bill moving through the General Assembly have said they hope the legislation can help lessen legitimate pain for users and also alleviate the state’s opioid crisis.

The bill is more than likely to get approval by the Democrat-majority panel and make it to the full House for debate, said the committee’s chairman, state Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland. The House committee, commonly referred to as “3M,” is the only legislative panel in the GOP-led chamber chaired by a Democrat, and it’s the only House committee where Democrats make up the majority of its members.

The bill is “moving faster than the speed of light,” Howard told The State last week.

The Republican-led Senate in February voted to pass the medical marijuana legislation by a 28-15 vote over the opposition of many in law enforcement and conservative groups. Senators heavily amended the legislation in hopes to smooth its passage.

Some on-the-fence senators who voted to advance the bill defended their vote in hopes that South Carolina’s dependency on opioid use lessens, citing the more than 1,000 opioid-related deaths that occurred in 2020.

“I hope and pray that this is part of the solution. If it’s not, we gave it a shot,” state Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, said ahead of the Senate’s vote from the floor. “But I hope that some people get some help and the help that they need, and I hope that we haven’t created something that we’re going to look back on as a Frankenstein monster and have to fix, but I’m ready to do that if we have to.”

State Rep. Joe Bustos, the sole Republican on the House panel set to discuss the bill Thursday, said he has questions about the bill’s implementation, but said if marijuana can help reduce a user’s pain then he leans toward supporting it.

“It deserves a fair hearing,” Bustos, R-Charleston, said.

Once the bill advances, the full House will have less than two months to debate it amid a crush of other legislation that lawmakers will be pushing aggressively before the end of the legislative working session in mid-May. Any bill that fails to become law will have to be refiled next year. It took Davis roughly seven years to get his legislation out of the Senate.

Gov. Henry McMaster has yet to definitively say whether he’d sign the legislation or veto it.

“It’s mixed,” Howard said when asked where votes stood in the House to pass Davis’ bill. “I think I’m optimistic.”