South Carolina Advances Bill Supporting Medical Marijuana Research
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The 2019 legislative session in the United States already has some key cannabis legislation pending debate in the coming year — such as Oregon’s proposal to ready the state for interstate cannabis export, and the Georgia General Assembly’s debate on legalizing medicinal marijuana. The results of these two votes could have a significant impact on nationwide cannabis policy; the first would mount pressure on the federal government to legalize the transport of cannabis over state borders, and the latter would see a strongly conservative state in the Deep South embrace a policy also endorsed by progressives in the Democratic party.
Now, South Carolina looks to join states like Oregon and Georgia as a major player in shaping the country’s marijuana law, despite the state being unwilling to legalize medicinal or recreational cannabis at present.
State legislators ask federal lawmakers to support medical cannabis research
A panel of state legislators voted on Jan 10 to advance a resolution that urges Congress to support scientific research into the potential medical and therapeutic uses of cannabis, and to make it easier to carry out this research by revising the current federal laws surrounding cannabis research. The bill, introduced by Senator Greg Hembree (R), asks federal lawmakers “to take immediate and additional steps to promote and actively pursue scientific research and testing into the potential use of cannabis to treat other medical conditions and illnesses by removing the federal statutory and regulatory barriers that prevent these scientific endeavors.”
At the recommendation of Retired US Army Sgt. Jonathan Lubecky, who is presently a lobbyist for the non-profit organization the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, Sen. Hembree’s bill was also amended to explicitly appeal to the US Attorney General, as well as the wider Congress. Subcommittee Chairman Shane Martin accepted the slight amendment to the bill before it moved before the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee on account of how vehemently anti-cannabis reform the former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was while he was in office.
As of the latest action on Jan 17, the bill was found favorable with the amendment by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee and has moved out of committee to be considered by the members of the South Carolina Senate. If successful in the state’s Senate, the bill will then be introduced and voted on in the House, where if it passes it will go to the State Governor to be ratified into law.
Other cannabis proposals in South Carolina
The 2019-2020 legislative session will also see South Carolina lawmakers look at other important pieces of cannabis-related legislation. One of the most important bills that will be introduced this session is the SC Compassionate Care Act.
The SC Compassionate Care Act, which will be introduced by Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) in the State Senate and State Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston) in the House, would legalize the use of medicinal marijuana in the state. The bill proposes that dispensaries be opened in each country which could sell cannabis oils or topical creams — but not cannabis leaf for smoking — which could be used medicinally. The decision to approve medical cannabis treatment could be made by state doctors, and in the case of young people aged 18 to 23, two doctors would have to sign off on the prescription.
Similar bills have been presented to the South Carolina legislature before, most notably was the “SC Compassionate Care Act”, introduced in the 2017 legislative session and passed by both House and Senate committees; however, this legislative session expired before it could be debated by the wider legislature. Supporters of the 2019 version of the Compassionate Care Act are hopeful that this time the bill will make it to the House and Senate floor despite continued opposition from prominent members of state law enforcement and the South Carolina Medical Association.
Attitudes to cannabis in South Carolina
While some members of law enforcement and the state Medical Association remain vocally opposed to the introduction of medical cannabis, and by extension any relaxation of federal cannabis law to further medical cannabis research, the general public in South Carolina hold a different view.
According to a new poll from Benchmark Research, a supermajority of South Carolinians are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, with 72 percent of the 400 respondents to their poll backing legalization. Further breaking down the numbers by political affiliation, 84 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents, and 63 percent of Republicans expressed support for legalization.
While a survey size of 400 respondents is still fairly small, the figures do correlate rather closely with what is being seen in party politics. In June, voters in the Democratic primary also overwhelmingly voted in favor — by 82% to 18% — of a non-binding advisory ballot question which posed “Do you support passing a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?”
Additionally, while not quite as close a match to the Benchmark Research poll, a survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy at the beginning of 2018 which polled 625 registered South Carolina voters found 61% of respondents in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. Of course, this discrepancy could be down to changing attitudes over the past year or, as noted in the Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey, the support for medical cannabis does vary geographically across the state; but regardless, it appears the people of South Carolina are ready for medical cannabis. All that remains to be seen is if their politicians feel the same.