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Could 2021 be the year for medical pot in SC? Legislators gear up for debate

This article originally ran in The State newspaper. View it here.


BY EMILY BOHATCH

DECEMBER 13, 2020 12:00 AM


COLUMBIA, S.C.



South Carolina lawmakers are slated to consider multiple bills next year that could legalize marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use.


Though some Democrats are pushing for complete decriminalization of the plant, there is a bipartisan effort to push legalization of medical marijuana in the state.

Medical marijuana bills prefiled this month in both the House and the Senate tout sponsors from both parties. If either bill — both named the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act” — were to pass, South Carolina would join 36 other states in allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.


But bipartisan support hasn’t been enough to push through marijuana legislation in the past. Last session, two bipartisan bills, one in each the House and the Senate, didn’t make it out of their respective committees.


In the Senate last year, the bill became bogged down by amendments, including one that would only allow cannabis derivatives such as oils and creams. Neither bill resurfaced during 2020, when the session was cut short by COVID-19.

In 2018, however, medical marijuana bills made it to both the floors of the House and the Senate, but the ending of the 2017-18 session reset the clock on the movement.


The bill has seen opposition from groups like the State Law Enforcement Division and the S.C. Medical Association, who have said they won’t support legalizing medical marijuana until it is recognized and approved as a drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has also threatened to veto such legislation as long as it’s opposed by law enforcement.


Recently, there has been more support in the South to pass medical marijuana legislation. In November, Mississippi became the first state in the Bible Belt to make it legal.


But medical marijuana isn’t the only cannabis bill on tap for next year. Democrats in both the House and the Senate have also filed bills that could decriminalized recreational marijuana.

A Senate bill, introduced by Richland Democrat S.C. Sen. Mia McLeod, would allow those 21 or older to have or use marijuana. The bill would also provide a system to license marijuana cultivators and retailers, but would allow counties and municipalities to ban it within their jurisdictions, if they choose.

The House bill, sponsored by more than 30 Democrats, would decriminalize the possession of 28 grams or less of marijuana or ten grams or less of hashish, another cannabis product.

Another Senate bill calls for a statewide referendum during the 2022 election to allow voters to voice their support of or opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana. That bill was sponsored by S.C. Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton.


In November, Montana, Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota all voted to legalize recreational marijuana, bringing the total number of states to allow it up to 15.

There has also been a push on the national level to decriminalize marijuana.


The U.S. House of Representatives voted in early December to not only decriminalize cannabis, but also expunge nonviolent marijuana-related convictions. The bill passed with bipartisan support, but is not expected to make it through the U.S. Senate.

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