SC Senate still divided over medical marijuana bill after weeks of debate

The South Carolina Senate is still struggling to reach a consensus on a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state, after weeks of debate and amendments. The bill, known as the Compassionate Care Act, would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to access cannabis products with a doctor’s recommendation. However, the bill faces opposition from some senators who fear that it would open the door to recreational use and abuse.

The bill, S. 423, was introduced by Sen. Tom Davis, a Republican from Beaufort, who has been advocating for medical marijuana for seven years. Davis said he was motivated by the stories of patients who suffered from chronic pain, seizures, PTSD, and other conditions that could be alleviated by cannabis. Davis said he wanted to give them a safe and legal option, instead of forcing them to rely on opioids or the black market.

The bill would create a regulated system for the cultivation, processing, testing, and dispensing of medical cannabis products, such as oils, pills, patches, and edibles. The bill would also establish a list of qualifying conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and terminal illness, and a registry of patients and caregivers. The bill would prohibit smoking or vaping of cannabis, as well as home cultivation and public consumption.

The bill has undergone several changes since it was first introduced, in an attempt to address the concerns of some senators and law enforcement officials. Some of the changes include:

  • Reducing the amount of cannabis that a patient can possess from four ounces to two ounces per month.
  • Adding a provision that would allow employers to fire or discipline workers who use medical cannabis, even if they have a valid card.
  • Removing chronic pain from the list of qualifying conditions, unless it is associated with another condition or verified by two doctors.
  • Requiring patients to try other treatments before resorting to cannabis, unless they have a terminal illness or a waiver from their doctor.
  • Increasing the fees and penalties for violating the rules and regulations of the program.

The debate and the deadlock

The bill has been the subject of intense debate and scrutiny in the Senate, where it has been on the floor since January 26. The bill has faced opposition from some senators who argue that it is too broad, too risky, and too contrary to federal law. They have also questioned the medical evidence and the moral implications of legalizing cannabis.

Some of the opponents of the bill include:

  • Sen. Greg Hembree, a Republican from Horry, who said that the bill would create a “de facto recreational marijuana program” and that it would violate the state’s constitution and the oath of office of the senators.
  • Sen. Shane Martin, a Republican from Spartanburg, who said that the bill would send the wrong message to the youth and that it would undermine the authority and credibility of the federal government and the FDA.
  • Sen. Mike Gambrell, a Republican from Anderson, who said that the bill would increase the risk of addiction, impaired driving, and mental health problems, and that it would hurt the state’s economy and reputation.

The opponents of the bill have tried to delay or derail the bill by proposing numerous amendments, some of which were adopted and some of which were rejected. Some of the amendments that were rejected include:

  • An amendment that would have required patients to undergo a mental health evaluation before obtaining a medical cannabis card.
  • An amendment that would have required patients to sign a waiver of their right to sue the state or the cannabis industry for any damages or injuries caused by cannabis use.
  • An amendment that would have required patients to register their cannabis products with the state and to report any adverse effects or incidents to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The supporters of the bill have tried to defend and advance the bill by appealing to the compassion, the common sense, and the will of the people. They have also cited the examples and the experiences of other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and the benefits and the safeguards of the bill.

Some of the supporters of the bill include:

  • Sen. Tom Davis, the sponsor of the bill, who said that the bill was based on science, evidence, and best practices, and that it was the most conservative and restrictive medical marijuana bill in the country.
  • Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democrat from Orangeburg, who said that the bill was a matter of personal freedom and responsibility, and that it was supported by a majority of South Carolinians, according to polls and surveys.
  • Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat from Charleston, who said that the bill was a matter of social justice and racial equity, and that it would reduce the disparities and the discrimination in the criminal justice system.

The supporters of the bill have also faced some challenges and setbacks, such as:

  • The opposition of Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, who said that he would veto the bill if it reached his desk, and that he would not support any form of marijuana legalization until it was approved by the federal government and the FDA.
  • The resistance of some House members, who said that they would not consider the bill unless it passed the Senate with a two-thirds majority, and that they would not accept any changes or amendments to the bill.
  • The expiration of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end on May 13, and which would require the bill to start over from scratch next year if it is not passed by then.

The outlook and the expectations of the bill

The bill, which has been stuck in a deadlock for weeks, is expected to resume debate on Tuesday, February 15, when the Senate returns from a week-long break. The bill’s fate remains uncertain, as it needs to overcome the opposition and the obstacles in the Senate, the House, and the governor’s office. The bill’s chances also depend on the availability and the priority of the time and the resources in the legislature, which has to deal with other pressing issues, such as the budget, the pandemic, and the redistricting.

The bill’s advocates have expressed their hope and their determination to pass the bill this year, and to make South Carolina the 39th state to legalize medical marijuana. They have also urged the senators to listen to their constituents and their conscience, and to vote on the bill based on its merits and its benefits.

The bill’s opponents have expressed their doubt and their opposition to the bill, and to any form of marijuana legalization. They have also warned the senators of the consequences and the risks of passing the bill, and of going against the federal law and the public interest.

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