Time can move slowly in South Carolina – like the time it takes to turn a whole hog into a whole meal, or maybe to turn grain, yeast, and water into whiskey. When it comes to cannabis reform in South Carolina, however, sometimes it seems time isn’t moving at all.
Progress for cannabis reform in the state of South Carolina has been slow, even as sister states in the South have adopted reform proposals with increasing frequency. But that may change as soon as this winter, with a proposal before the state legislature that would legalize medical cannabis. This bill, the Compassionate Care Act, was introduced last year and passed the Senate Medical Affairs Committee, but never made it to vote before the General Assembly’s session concluded in May. The bill’s main sponsor believes that it may face an easier time in the session that started last week, and it could be on the Senate floor as early as this week.
The stated purpose of the Compassionate Care Act is to create a well-regulated medical cannabis program to allow seriously ill individuals to use and safely access medical cannabis when recommended by their physicians. The act expressly references the fact that 36 other states allow medical marijuana and that cannabis has many accepted medical uses in the United States, citing the various medical academies and associations that support it. The act does, however, reiterate that it does not in any way attempt to legalize cannabis for any reasons other than medical benefit.
To be sure, the Compassionate Care Act would be one of the more modest, conservative medical cannabis laws in the country. It expressly enumerates the only medical conditions that qualify for marijuana prescriptions, and even if a patient qualifies, smokable cannabis is still prohibited and patients cannot grow their own plants. In fact, there is a cap for 15 cultivation centers, 30 processing facilities, and no more than one dispensary for every 20 pharmacies – and all will be licensed and regulated by the state from seed to sale. The conservative nature of the bill is meant to appease the conservative contingent that makes up the majority of the South Carolina legislature.
Nevertheless, the passage of the act would represent a dramatic change in the law and usher in a new therapy for certain South Carolinians – even if it took a little longer than other states to get there.
So, What Is the Takeaway?
Cannabis is almost certainly coming to South Carolina. That progress is moving less quickly than other Southern states may be a cause of consternation for advocates, but perhaps it is true that the best things come to those who wait.
That said, there is a clear trend towards states adopting legal cannabis regimes. We try not to take sides in that policy debate, but we do think the South Carolina Legislature owes it to its citizens to have the debate. And so while we are optimistic that certain legislators have indicated a willingness to do so, we suggest the Legislature take the advice of the late, great Elvis Presley: a little less conversation, a little more action.
© 2022 Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 25