In January, South Carolina lawmakers, Senator Tom Davis and State Representative Peter McCoy, once again introduced the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act to the General Assembly. While a similar bill was introduced during the 2018 session and passed by several committees, it never made it to the House and Senate floor for a final vote before the legislative session concluded in May of last year.
The Compassionate Care Act would vastly expand upon Senate Bill 1035 which was passed in 2014 but only gave patients with severe and rare forms of epilepsy the legal protection to use CBD oil to control their seizures if a doctor recommended it and other treatments proved ineffective. Known as Julian’s Law, it did not establish any type of infrastructure to dispense medical cannabis. This forced patients, caregivers and parents of minor patients to travel out of state or turn to the black market.
A key advocate of the legislation is the South Carolina Compassionate Care Alliance which was founded by Jill Swing whose daughter suffers from intractable epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Due to the lack of a full-fledged medical cannabis program, she states, “It forces moms like us onto the black market to get medicine for our kids. That’s just not the way you want to access your child’s medicine.”
Swing and her group support, “in-state cultivation and a truly state-regulated product so we will know that it is what it says it is and that it’s grown under specific requirements. We want to know that what we’re giving our children – if nothing else – a safe and consistent product.”
What’s Included in the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act
Like many other medical cannabis programs, patients will need to apply for a registration card through the state’s health department (DHEC). To be approved, they must have at least one qualifying medical condition and a recommendation from their physician with whom they have a bona fide relationship. All patients between 18 and 23 years of age are required to have certification letters from two doctors.
Eligible illnesses include cancer, a neurological disease or disorder, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, glaucoma, PTSD, cachexia or wasting syndrome, epilepsy, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, conditions causing a patient to be home-bound due to severe or persistent nausea, and terminal illnesses (with less than one year to live). Over time, more conditions may be added by a Medical Cannabis Review Board.
Now, here’s an overview of the program according to the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act in its current form:
- It would be managed by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and monitored by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
- A Medical Cannabis Review Board would be formed and include representatives from the SLED, DHEC and eight other members chosen by the governor and approved by the state senate.
- Licensing through the DHEC will be available for 15 cannabis cultivators, 30 processing facilities and 5 testing laboratories. Fees are yet to be determined.
- The DHEC would also license at least one privately owned dispensary in each county and at most one dispensary for every 20 pharmacies in the state.
- Dispensaries must not be located within 1,000 feet of a school (specific exceptions apply) and employ a pharmacist, physician assistant or licensed practical nurse.
- Medical cannabis can be used in forms such as vaporized oil, gel caps, suppositories, patches or topical creams. It cannot be sold or smoked in leaf form and violations are subject to $150 fine.
- Registered patients and caregivers will be allowed to purchase and possess up to two ounces of dried cannabis (per patient) every two weeks. How that translates to approved products will be determined by the DHEC.
- Patients and caregivers will not be allowed to grow their own cannabis.
- Doctors, patients, caregivers, medical cannabis businesses, accountants, lawyers and any other entities associated with the program will have legal protection against arrest or prosecution for activities allowed under the Compassionate Care Act.
With the ban on smoking and a need for young adults to obtain two recommendations, the program has been designed to prevent recreational use of cannabis. According to Senator Davis, “It is, I am confident to say, the most strictly regulated, socially conservative medical cannabis bill in the United States.”
The Final Hurdle and Wildcard, Governor Henry McMaster
At this point, it’s not just lawmakers that are on board with the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act. During the Democratic primary held in June of 2018, voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding measure allowing doctors to prescribe medical cannabis for their patients. The final vote was 82% in favor.
It appears that the biggest challenge will be Gov. McMaster. At this point, there’s no indication that he would sign a medical cannabis bill into law. In a 2017 interview with ABC Columbia News, he made the following statement, “From what I have learned about, and what I know and what I’ve seen, it’s a bad idea to legalize marijuana. It would hurt the people, particularly the young people.” He also told the reporter that he doubted a medical cannabis bill would ever make it to his desk.
It’s now possible that we’ll see if the governor will change his stance or impede the will of the people. And Medicine Man Technologies will be keeping a close eye on the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act progresses.
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