South Carolina Senators Fall Short Of Supermajority Vote To Advance Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

An attempt to advance a South Carolina medical marijuana legalization bill failed in the Senate on Thursday, despite a majority of members voting in favor of the special order motion from the Republican majority leader.

The Senate voted 25-16 in favor of the special order motion from Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R) that would have put the S.C. Compassionate Care Act back in play for the 2024 session. It needed at least 28 votes to meet the two-thirds supermajority requirement for special orders, however.

This doesn’t mean that the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis (R), won’t be taken up at all this year. But the legislative maneuver from Majority Leader A. Shane Massey (R) to streamline its consideration at Thursday’s meeting came up short.

Senate Medical Affairs Committee Chairman Danny Verdin (R) separately said last month that he wants a “redo” this session to pass the bill. His panel did approve the measure last year, but it didn’t advance through the full chamber by a crossover deadline.

An earlier version of the legislation cleared the full Senate in 2022, only to stall in the House over a procedural hiccup.

“I’m committed to a medicinal cannabis program that is for the health and well-being of South Carolinians,” Verdin said last month.

Overall, the bill would allow patients to access cannabis from licensed dispensaries if they receive a doctor’s recommendation for the treatment of qualifying conditions.

Here are the main provisions of the proposal

“Debilitating medical conditions” for which patients could receive a medical cannabis recommendation include cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Crohn’s disease, autism, a terminal illness where the patient is expected to live for less than one year and a chronic illness where opioids are the standard of care, among others.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and Board of Pharmacy would be responsible for promulgating rules and licensing cannabis businesses, including dispensaries that would need to have a pharmacist on-site at all times of operation.

In an effort to prevent excess market consolidation, the bill has been revised to include language requiring regulators to set limits on the number of businesses a person or entity could hold more than five percent interest in, at the state-level and regionally.

A “Medical Cannabis Advisory Board” would be established, tasked with adding or removing qualifying conditions for the program. The legislation was revised from its earlier form to make it so legislative leaders, in addition to the governor, would be making appointments for the board.

Importantly, the bill omits language prescribing a tax on medical cannabis sales, unlike the last version. The inclusion of tax provisions resulted in the House rejecting the earlier bill because of procedural rules in the South Carolina legislature that require legislation containing tax-related measures to originate in that body rather than the Senate.

Smoking marijuana and cultivating the plant for personal use would be prohibited.

Doctors would be able to specify the amount of cannabis that a patient could purchase in a 14-day window, or they could recommend the default standard of 1,600 milligrams of THC for edibles, 8,200 milligrams for oils for vaporization and 4,000 milligrams for topics like lotions.

Edibles couldn’t contain more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving.

There would also be packaging and labeling requirements to provide consumers with warnings about possible health risks. Products couldn’t be packaged in a way that might appeal to children.

Patients could not use medical marijuana or receive a cannabis card if they work in public safety, commercial transportation or commercial machinery positions. That would include law enforcement, pilots and commercial drivers, for example.

Local governments would be able to ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area, or set rules on policies like the number of cannabis businesses that may be licensed and hours of operation. DHEC would need to take steps to prevent over-concentration of such businesses in a given area of the state.

Lawmakers and their immediate family members could not work for, or have a financial stake in, the marijuana industry until July 2029, unless they recuse themselves from voting on the reform legislation.

DHEC would be required to produce annual reports on the medical cannabis program, including information about the number of registered patients, types of conditions that qualified patients and the products they’re purchasing and an analysis of how independent businesses are serving patients compared to vertically integrated companies.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.—

Meanwhile, a poll released last year found that a strong majority of South Carolina adults support legalizing marijuana for both medical (76 percent) and recreational (56 percent) use—a finding that U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) has promoted.

Davis, the sponsor of the South Carolina cannabis reform bill, has said that his own party’s stance, particularly as it concerns medical marijuana, is “an intellectually lazy position that doesn’t even try to present medical facts as they currently exist.”

After Davis’s Senate-passed medical cannabis bill was blocked in the House in 2022, he tried another avenue for the reform proposal, but that similarly failed on procedural grounds.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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