COLUMBIA, S.C. (Feb. 11, 2022) – Yesterday, the South Carolina Senate passed a bill to legalize a limited medical marijuana program despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
A bipartisan coalition led by Sen. Tom Davis (R) filed Senate Bill 150 (S.150) in December. Titled the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, the legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase some medical marijuana products at licensed dispensaries. The proposed law would not allow smokable products or the home cultivation of marijuana.
In addition to the list of qualifying conditions, patients with “any chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition for which an opioid is currently or could be prescribed by a physician based on generally accepted standards of care” could access medical marijuana.
On Feb. 10, the Senate passed S.150 by a 28-15 vote.
“After seven long years of fighting, this Senate vote is truly a historic moment. It brings hope for so many who desperately need safe, legal access to medical cannabis,” Jill Swing, executive director of the S.C. Compassionate Care Alliance, said in a press release. “I can never thank Senator Davis enough for his tireless efforts. But I am also grateful for all members of the Senate whose careful discernment brought them to a place of support for the Compassionate Care Act. SC House, here we come!”
It remains unclear if S.150 will be considered in the House. According to Marijuana Moment, Davis said House Speaker Jay Lucas (R) agreed to “allow the bill to go through the House process” if it advanced through the Senate. But a spokesperson for the speaker later told The Charleston Post and Courier that “Sen. Davis doesn’t speak for Speaker Lucas.”
Gov. Henry McMaster (R) refused to comment on the legislation and has not indicated whether he would sign the bill into law.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization of medical marijuana in South Carolina would take the first step and remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
South Carolina could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore. The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
S.150 will move to the House for further consideration. At the time of this report, it had not been referred to a House committee. Once it receives a committee assignment, it must receive a hearing and then pass committee by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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