Push for medical marijuana in SC advances to House floor for debate
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The bill to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina cleared a key hurdle Thursday, advancing to the House of Representatives floor for debate.
The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs, or 3-M, Committee voted 15-3 to send the “SC Compassionate Care Act” to the full chamber.
Three Republicans — Reps. Vic Dabney of Kershaw County, Ryan McCabe of Lexington County, and Sandy McGarry of Lancaster County — voted against it, while all Democrats and the remaining Republicans on the panel voted in support.
The Senate passed the legislation in February, and if the House does the same, the bill would head to the desk of Gov. Henry McMaster, who has not indicated if he would sign or veto medical marijuana legislation. However, the General Assembly can override gubernatorial vetoes with enough votes.
At this point, every step bill takes is further than it has gone before, though supporters have been backing this push for years.
“I think it is past time, and I think this body and this state is ready for it,” Rep. Krystle Matthews, D – Berkeley, said during Thursday’s meeting.
Among other stipulations, the bill would not allow for smokable marijuana, only in the form of oils, salves, patches, and vaporizers.
A person would need to have one of 12 qualifying medical conditions to get a prescription, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and post-trauma stress disorder, with in-person approval from their doctor.
A 6% state tax would be imposed on sales, with an option for an additional local tax available.
South Carolina would become the 38th state in the country to legalize medical marijuana if the Compassionate Care Act becomes law.
“This particular bill, out of all the states that currently have medical cannabis, is the most restrictive and has the most parameters, guidelines, barriers, guardrails in place,” Rep. Chris Hart, D – Richland, said.
One of the bill’s opponents, Dabney, proposed more than 120 amendments to it Thursday, which could have caused the meeting to stall for hours, even with a rule in place to limit discussion on each proposal.
However, nearly 80 of his amendments were deemed repetitive and struck from consideration, while nearly all of the others were voted down or eventually pulled by Dabney.
His sole amendment that was adopted in the version of the bill headed to the House floor would require ingredients and potential allergens be listed on labels.
While Dabney said he believed the use of medical cannabis is acceptable in cases of terminal illness, he found the overall bill to be too broad for his support.
“It’s an industry is what we’re dealing with, and whenever money’s involved and people are making lots of money, bad thing are going to happen,” he said.
Another Republican opponent, McCabe, thought the legislation was too restrictive in terms of how many businesses could participate.
“Limiting this to 15 growers is going to make 15 growers incredibly rich. If we’re going to do this bill, it needs to be a true free market bill,” McCabe said.
Some supporters shared that concern, but ultimately, several echoed the sentiment that they believe this bill will help the people of South Carolina and give them more healthcare options.
“Now you can agree with it, you can disagree with it, but don’t deny somebody else the opportunity at a quality of life because you disagree with it,” Rep. Jermaine Johnson, D – Richland, said.
“It’s not up to the government to dictate your healthcare. This is getting government out of healthcare,” Rep. Steward Jones, R – Laurens, added.
Earlier in the week, members of the committee heard several hours of public testimony on the bill.
Most of the people who spoke then urged committee members to support the bill, including parents of children with incurable diseases, who said this drug is their best, and sometimes, only option for treatment. Multiple veterans also told the panel that medical marijuana was a safer and more effective treatment than the opioids they are typically prescribed through the VA for lasting injuries and PTSD they suffer during and after their services.
On Thursday, proponents pointed to these two groups specifically as South Carolinians who would benefit from the legislation.
“My colleague and mentor, Mr. Hart, worded it perfectly this week when he said we’re always telling veterans, ‘Thank you for your service,’” Rep. Kimberly Johnson, D – Clarendon, said. “But I believe that talk needs to be matched by the walk.”
As it is written now, the bill would expire at the end of 2028, though lawmakers could choose to extend it.
“I know this was tough for a lot of us, but again, we have the ability to help people, and we have to be reliant on them to follow the law as we have — if we pass this bill, as we have indicated it should be,” Rep. Wendy Brawley, D – Richland, said. “And if we find that people are abusing the law, we have the ability to correct that.”
With the House of Representatives off next week, the earliest the bill could be debated on the House floor would be in about two weeks, with the legislative session ending in May.
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