In major medical cannabis news out of South Carolina, a bill that would legalize the drug for seriously ill patients made it out of committee on Thursday and will soon be under consideration in the full Senate. Now that it’s possible for the bill to get a floor vote in both chambers before the end of the current session, legal medical marijuana in South Carolina is closer than ever.
On Thursday, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted to approve S 212, a bill that would grant qualifying patients access to medical cannabis with a physician’s recommendation.
Next up, the bill will face consideration before the full Senate. It will very likely come to a floor vote before the current legislative session’s April 10 deadline.
S 212 would task the Department of Health and Environmental Control with regulating and licensing cultivators, processors, dispensaries, and testing labs. Additionally, the department would establish a patient and caregiver registry and distribute registration cards to those enrolled.
The Compassionate Care Act, however, prohibits patients from smoking medical cannabis. For patients, the herbaceous form of cannabis is the most cost-effective, but dosing can be more challenging. Healthcare professionals also view smoke inhalation as a health hazard.
Other restrictions in S 212 would make South Carolina’s one of the most carefully regulated medical cannabis programs in the country. Those restrictions are the result of lobbying efforts by some in law enforcement.
As a result, legislators introduced several additional safeguards and amendments to address law enforcement concerns. And that has upset many supporters of the bill. They feel lawmakers are caving to pressure from police and ignoring testimony from prominent medical professionals.
Other law enforcement officials, however, have spoken out in favor of S 212. Jeff Moore, former executive director of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, said: “it is presumptuous, irresponsible, and arrogant for law enforcement officials to take it upon themselves to determine what medical resources should be available for the citizens of South Carolina who are suffering and in need of relief.”
Indeed, State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel has made repeated statements claiming marijuana has no medical value. He also vowed not to support any legislation that went against the federal ban on cannabis.
The bill’s supporters, like Moore, have criticized Keel for “hiding behind dubious federal policy.”
Moore’s son, a combat veteran, uses medical cannabis to treat his PTSD. He lives in Michigan, one of the 29 states, along with D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico, with legal medical cannabis.
So while medical marijuana in South Carolina is closer than ever before, advocates will likely have to continue to struggle to expand access for ill patients.
State representatives who support the bill have broad public support. According to a September 2016 poll, 78 percent of South Carolina residents approve legalizing medical cannabis.
Despite the Compassionate Care Act’s progress, there’s still a chance the bill won’t make it out of the legislature this session.
The Senate is moving forward.
But the House has so far declined to hear its own version of the medical cannabis bill. And that could mean it stalls on S 212. The deadline for S 212 to advance is April 10.
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