COLOMBIA — South Carolina senators have taken a big step by approving a medical marijuana bill after three weeks of debate, sending the proposal through the House of Representatives for the first time since the first attempt to legalize medical cannabis seven years ago.
Drafted and urged by lawmakers over two long days of debate, Republican Senator Tom Davis’s Beaufort bill will move to the other chamber in a greatly watered-down version that he, as its sponsor, has described as the “most conservative” in Parliament. Nation.
The bill would also limit the marketing and sale of cannabis products, and require medical “marijuana” growth operations and pharmacies — whose licenses would be tightly regulated and restricted to three in each county — to hire security agencies approved by the state’s law enforcement department.
The legislation also imposes tough penalties on doctors and patients caught falsifying records, as well as anti-corruption measures to prevent lawmakers from owning a financial stake in the state’s medical cannabis operations over the next decade.
While Davis has long claimed to have the votes to pass the bill, some, such as Senator Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, said they were unsure of their position on the bill until an hour before the vote.
The controversy over the measure spanned over several weeks, drawing in supporters and protesters from across the state. Davis, the leading Republican advocate of medicinal cannabis, took more than a week to file his bill. Several public officials—including U.S. Representative Nancy Mays, R-Charleston, state Republican Party officials, and Democratic candidate for governor Joe Cunningham—came to statehouse to either support or oppose the bill throughout the process.
In the final week of debate, lawmakers spent several long-running days considering more than 50 amendments to the bill, most of which came from a group of conservative lawmakers.
While many of them were unique, each had similar goals, seeking to either discourage recreational consumption of medical marijuana or eliminate the possibility of building the infrastructure needed to grow the recreational cannabis industry on the scale of recreational states such as Colorado or California.
Some lawmakers, such as Senator Billy Jarrett and R-Greenwood, have raised concerns about the fact that cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, and have pushed for changes to remove cannabis-infused cookies or gum from the program, saying medical marijuana should That taste like medicine.
Others, such as Senator Sandy Sen, R-Charleston, have pushed amendments to limit the maximum number of THC patients allowed per day, along with amendments that impose stronger criminal penalties on patients and doctors who have abused the medical marijuana program.
She told colleagues her motive was to restrict children’s access to illegal psychotropic substances as well as concern about opening the door to large cannabis companies, which had grown into a major political force in Western states and enclaves in the Northeast.
“They are going to hunt us down one by one with their money because they will have already invested a lot in South Carolina,” she said.
However, most of these efforts to amend the bill failed, due to severe restrictions on access to it already in the legislation.
Other amendments such as the one sponsored by Senator Marlon Kempson, D-Charleston, sought to give local and established farmers and producers in the state-based industrial hemp industry a competitive advantage over out-of-state companies in receiving growth licenses.
There have also been efforts to completely dismantle the bill. Senator Greg Hemprey, R-Little River, introduced an amendment that would have effectively subverted the bill in favor of alternative legislation authorizing South Carolina to pursue a clinical study of medical marijuana, despite extensive peer-reviewed evidence supporting its therapeutic benefits.
Hembree said it was an attempt to take a cautious approach to medical cannabis and avoid creating facilities such as home farming and distribution networks needed for full recreational programs.
“We are standing on the edge of a ‘big pot,'” he said on the Senate floor. “It will be a permanent, large-scale marijuana industry in South Carolina.
Lawmakers ultimately rejected the Hembree amendment by 26-18 after lengthy arguments from Davis, who argued that his bill was so heavily regulated that jumping to recreational cannabis would be impossible.
He also argued that the Hembree Amendment — introduced as a way to access the drug without violating federal law — would potentially deny thousands of potential medical cannabis patients access to the drug, without providing any significant benefit to clinicians’ understanding of the drug.
“Clinical trials shouldn’t provide access, they should collect data,” Davis said.
The bill will now go to a routine Senate vote on February 10, after which it will go to the House of Representatives for further discussion.
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