South Carolina lawmakers make fresh medical marijuana legalization push

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Lawmakers in South Carolina are planning a bipartisan push to legalize medical marijuana this year in the conservative Southern state, one of the few remaining places in America where MMJ is still illegal.

To date, 37 states allow sick people access to cannabis in some form, with varying degrees of ease, including such Southern states as Arkansas and Mississippi.

Though South Carolina legalized CBD oil in 2014 – a few years before the 2018 federal Farm Bill made the nonintoxicating cannabinoid available in all 50 states – several recent efforts to make the state the 38th with medical access to THC products have failed, most recently in May 2022.

But last month, according to Mount Pleasant TV station WPDE, two competing proposals to legalize medical cannabis in South Carolina were pre-filed ahead of the state Legislature’s first session, scheduled for Jan. 10.

Both measures propose similar frameworks:

  • The Put Patients First Act – co-sponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Todd Rutherford and freshman Republican Rep. Jay Kilmartin, a hard-right conservative – would create an MMJ system similar to those in other states, with cannabis available to qualified “registered patients” with a doctor’s recommendation. Text of that bill also calls for registered caregivers and for dispensaries to “cultivate, grow, and dispense marijuana for medical use.”
  • The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act – co-sponsored by four Republican representatives, including Bill Herbskerman and Kilmartin, and one Democrat – would similarly “authorize the use of cannabis products by patients with debilitating medical conditions who are under the care of a physician, with exceptions.” Herbskerman was the lead sponsor of earlier efforts in the Legislature to legalize MMJ.

Even if the Legislature were to pass a legalization bill, it’s unclear whether it would survive a veto from Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.

McMaster received an “F” rating in NORML’s voter guide for his opposition to medical use and support of criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession.

The medical cannabis push in South Carolina has potential ramifications for the 2024 presidential race.

An effort to move the first Democratic presidential primary in 2024 from Iowa to South Carolina has the backing of prominent Democrats such as President Joe Biden, who last year signed a historic cannabis research bill into law and also launched the first review in 50 years of federal marijuana prohibition.

South Carolina is also the home state of Republican U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, one of the sponsors of the GOP-pushed States Reform Act.