It seems like every few months there is news about a state, municipality, or foreign country that has taken the plunge and legalized marijuana. But is Marijuana legal in SC?
Of course not.
Although South Carolina tends to be one of the last states to adopt common-sense regulations or to drop nonsensical regulations, there may be a glimmer of hope for people who are suffering from severe illnesses that can be treated by marijuana.
But, just let anyone light up a joint? SC is not on board with that kind of freedom. Not yet, anyway. Although legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes has been proposed, no one expects it to pass in SC anytime soon.
Will SC at least pass medical marijuana legislation? If so, what will it look like?
Is Medical Marijuana Legal in SC?
Medical marijuana is not legal in SC either, at least not yet...
Earlier this year, voters in the Democratic primary overwhelmingly voted in favor of medical marijuana legislation - 86% of voters were in favor. Unfortunately, this was an "advisory vote" that has no effect other than to let legislators know that SC residents want change:
The question "Do you support passing a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?" was approved by Democrats in all of the state's 46 counties during Tuesday's primary.
So, SC Democrats are in favor of medical marijuana - does that mean SC Republicans are opposed to it? No...
It seems to be a rare nonpartisan issue supported by most SC residents - a Winthrop poll also showed similar support for medical marijuana legislation, with 78% of residents in favor.
There is legislation in the SC House and Senate right now that would approve limited medical marijuana legislation - the Compassionate Care Act.
What is the SC Compassionate Care Act?
The Compassionate Care Act made it to the House and Senate floors this year but did not receive a vote. Advocates are hopeful that there are enough votes to pass the legislation in the 2019 session.
The proposed law acknowledges the long history of marijuana use for medical purposes and the wealth of research showing the therapeutic value of marijuana:
Cannabis's recorded use as a medicine goes back nearly five thousand years. Modern medical research has confirmed the beneficial uses of cannabis, which is also called marijuana, in treating or alleviating the pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with a variety of debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, as found by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine in March 1999.
Studies published since the 1999 Institute of Medicine report continue to show the therapeutic value of cannabis in treating a wide array of debilitating medical conditions. These include relief of the neuropathic pain that often fails to respond to conventional treatments; relief from chronic pain and a reduction in patients' reliance on opiate-based painkillers; reduced symptoms and even complete remission from Crohn's disease; and relief of nausea, vomiting, and other side effects of drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, thereby increasing the chances of patients continuing on life-saving treatment regimens.
The Compassionate Care Act would legalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for card-holders, and authorizes physicians to prescribe marijuana for certain "debilitating conditions" including:
(a) cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, agitation of Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, Parkinson's disease, neural-tube defects, or the treatment of these conditions;
(b) a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe, debilitating pain; severe nausea; seizures; neurological disorders; or severe and persistent muscle spasms including, but not limited to, those characteristic of multiple sclerosis; or
(c) any other serious medical condition or its treatment added by the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, as provided for in Section 44-53-2420.
It also includes protections for medical marijuana cardholders including:
- "An owner of a residential property may prohibit tenants from smoking medical cannabis on the property but may not prohibit tenants from administering medical cannabis through other modes of administration;"
- A person cannot be denied child custody or visitation because they are a cardholder "unless the person's behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the safety of the child as established by clear and convincing evidence;"
- "There is no presumption of child abuse or neglect for conduct allowed pursuant to this article;"
- "No school or landlord may refuse to enroll, lease to, or otherwise penalize a person solely for the person's status as a cardholder, unless failing to do so would violate federal law or regulations, or would cause the school or landlord to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law or regulations;"
- "An applicant for a professional or occupational license may not be denied a license based on previous employment related to cannabis establishments operating in accordance with state law;" and
- "No employer may discharge, threaten, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee regarding an employee's compensation, terms, conditions, location, or privileges solely on the basis of the employee's status as a cardholder;" but
- Employers are not required to make accommodations to allow the use of medical marijuana at the place of employment and can still discipline an employee if they use medical marijuana at the workplace or if they work while under the influence of marijuana.
The law also provides protections for businesses and institutions, prohibiting any penalties or denial of benefits based on enrolling, leasing to, or providing services to cardholders or dispensaries for:
- Accountants; or
- Any other holder of a professional or occupational license.
Note that the Compassionate Care Act does not (and could not) provide any protection against enforcement actions by federal law enforcement or federal agencies.
Is marijuana legal in SC?
No, but medical marijuana could be legalized in the 2019 legislative session - we will see.
In the meantime, you can expect to be arrested and jailed for possession of even small amounts of marijuana in SC. If you have been charged with possession, distribution, or trafficking of marijuana, schedule a free consultation with a SC marijuana defense lawyer on the Axelrod team.
If you are preparing for the business aspect of medical marijuana legalization in SC and need help setting up your business, navigating the local, state, and federal marijuana laws, or negotiating contracts, schedule a free consultation with a SC business litigation attorney on the Axelrod team.