South Carolina Senate Debates Legislation to Legalize Medical Cannabis
Just over a year ago, the South Carolina Legislature introduced the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act” (S. 150 and H. 3361), which, for the first time, would allow medical cannabis in the state. The bill has gained bipartisan support since then and, just last week, the Senate began debating the bill. The Senate will be back in session today to continue debating this issue. While lawmakers have yet to vote on the bill, proponents of the bill believe they have enough votes to pass the Senate, at which point the bill would be sent to the House for additional debate, amendment, and a possible vote.
The bill would allow South Carolina residents to possess up to two-ounces of non-smokable cannabis when certified by a physician for a “debilitating medical condition,” which include cancer, multiple sclerosis, neurologic disorders, terminal illnesses, or those conditions for which opioids are likely to be prescribed as the standard of care. Under the bill, medical cannabis will be regulated by the state at all stages and its use will require a “written certification” from a physician and a “written treatment plan” from the certifying physician, which explains, among other things, the potential risks of cannabis use. Its sponsor, South Carolina Senator Tom Davis, calls it “the most conservative medical cannabis bill in the country.” Senator Davis has advocated for such a bill for the last seven years.
Revenues generated from the legal sales of medical cannabis would be allocated to the state’s general fund, as well as specifically for drug safety education programs. Revenues would also be allocated towards research “to improve law enforcement detection and training methods to detect drivers impaired by cannabis, prescription medications, and other drugs,” as well as for research and development on medical cannabis itself.
Last Wednesday, the Senate adopted an amendment by the Committee on Medical Affairs, which made a few changes to the bill. First, the amendment addresses the percentages of the revenue allocations discussed above. Further, the amendment adds that the bill does not require an insurer to be liable for or reimburse a claim for the medical use of cannabis. However, consultations in which physicians diagnose debilitating medical conditions and complete written certifications shall be reimbursed consistent with a qualifying patient’s health plan. Next, the amendment states that legal medical cannabis certifications from other states have the same force and effect as a valid registry identification card issued by South Carolina. Finally, the amendment requires that each dispensary must have a pharmacist, physician assistant, or clinical practice nurse who is licensed in South Carolina and who has completed medical cannabis-specific continuing education courses.
Thirty-six states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws to allow the use of medical cannabis. That trend is likely to continue until cannabis is removed as a Schedule I drug on the federal level under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C § 811). On November 16, 2021, South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace introduced a bill called the “States Reform Act,” which would do just that. Congresswoman Mace said that the bill “protects each state’s unique laws and reforms,” and “takes into account at the federal level that every state is different.” Congresswoman Mace has also recently voiced her support for the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act.
As the South Carolina and Congressional bills progress, I will be publishing articles to update readers. If you are involved in the medical cannabis industry, a physician who would like to incorporate medical cannabis into their practice, or you are thinking about beginning medical cannabis operations in South Carolina, please contact Nexsen Pruet, which has attorneys who have experience with healthcare, government regulation, criminal law, tax, and economic development.
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