A bill to legalize medical cannabis in South Carolina is headed for a vote in the state House of Representatives after the measure was approved by a legislative committee last week. The bill, known as the Compassionate Care Act, was approved by the House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee by a vote of 15-3 on Thursday.
The legislation would create one of the nation’s strictest medical cannabis programs, allowing only patients with specified serious medical conditions to use a limited selection of cannabis products.
“Anytime as a legislative body we can do something to help people, we ought to give that every consideration,” said state Representative Wendy Brawley as the measure was considered by House lawmakers last week.
Under the Compassionate Care Act (S.150/H. 3361), patients with one or more qualifying health conditions would be permitted to use cannabis medicinally. Patients would be required to meet with a physician in person to receive a recommendation to use medical pot.
Qualifying debilitating medical conditions include cancer, multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease or disorder (including epilepsy), sickle cell disease, glaucoma, PTSD, autism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cachexia, a condition causing a person to be home-bound that includes severe or persistent nausea, terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year, a chronic medical condition causing severe and persistent muscle spasms or a chronic medical condition for which an opioid is or could be prescribed based on accepted standards of care.
The measure does not allow patients to smoke cannabis and possession of plant forms of cannabis would still be a crime. Medical products including topicals, oils and vapes would be produced by regulated suppliers. Patients would be limited to purchasing a two-week supply of cannabis products at one time.
Senate Approved Bill in February
The bill was approved by the South Carolina Senate in February after first being classified as priority legislation a month earlier. The bill was originally introduced in 2015 by Senator Tom Davis. In 2018, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee advanced the bill to the Senate floor but the legislation was blocked from coming up for debate. At the close of the 2021 legislative session, Republican leaders promised Davis that the bill would come up for a vote this year.
To gain the approval of lawmakers in deeply conservative South Carolina, Davis has admitted that the bill would create one of the nation’s most strict medical cannabis programs. While members of the House debated the legislation last week, Davis said the bill is designed to prevent recreational cannabis use.
“I want people to look at South Carolina’s law and say, ‘If you want a law that helps patients and empowers doctors but doesn’t go down the slope to recreational, this is your bill,’” Davis told his colleagues.
Before the vote, the members of the committee also heard from Gary Hess, the founder and executive director of Louisiana-based Veterans Alliance for Holistic Alternatives. He told lawmakers that he was forced to purchase illicit cannabis to cope with the pain and PTSD he has endured since suffering a traumatic brain injury in the Iraq War.
“Here’s the sad truth, is that if I continue to rely on the VA in the western model of medicine, I would not be standing here in front of you today,” Hess told lawmakers at the committee hearing. “The truth is that the medical efficacy of this plant cannot be denied. Yet here, in South Carolina, veterans returning to their communities after service are being forced to become criminals placing themselves, their families and their children at risk to access this medicine.”
The House committee approved two amendments to the legislation before approving the bill. One amendment would require background checks for medical cannabis distributors and security plans for their businesses. The other would require cannabis products to be labeled with ingredients including the cultivar of cannabis used to manufacture the product.
Members of the committee rejected dozens of amendments from Representative Vic Dabney, who had proposed more than 100 changes to the legislation. He withdrew the remaining amendments but said he would have more proposed changes for the bill when it is taken up by the full House.
“My concern is, across the nation, wherever these bills have passed, a lot of problems develop,” said Dabney. He said he agrees in principle with allowing access to the drug for patients with serious medical conditions, but characterized the legislation as “too broad based.”
But Representative Deon Tedder said the benefits of legalizing medical cannabis in South Carolina outweigh the risks.
“I’d rather have people having access to safe use of medical marijuana than have them go out and try to go to another state or illegally obtain marijuana,” said Tedder.