South Carolina

If at First You Don’t Succeed: Updated Medical Cannabis Bill Filed in South Carolina

Ah, South Carolina. Its siren song has tempted cannabis advocates for years with its diversity — political, geographic, geological, and others. But until today, nada.

That could soon change as South Carolina’s Compassionate Care Act has been refiled with procedural fixes to avoid the same fate as the version filed in the 2022 legislative session.

The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act returns

As we reported last fall, South Carolina’s medicinal cannabis bill — the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act — passed the South Carolina Senate but died in the House of Representatives after being declared unconstitutional. This month, Senator Tom Davis (R) breathed new life into South Carolina’s medical cannabis push.

Davis introduced a new version of the bill that eliminates the wording mandating a tax on the sale of medicinal cannabis, leading to the House of Representatives rejecting the latest bill on constitutional grounds.

What type of medicinal cannabis program would the law establish?

The essential content of the law remains unchanged. It would couple a relatively narrow list of qualifying terms with a licensing system most similar to Alabama’s, with separate license types for each part of the cannabis supply chain.

The law would allow 15 “growth center” licenses, 30 “processing facility” licenses, one “therapeutic cannabis dispensary” (the term for a dispensary) for every 20 traditional dispensaries in the state, and “integrated operator” (the law term for a vertically integrated operator ) licenses in a quantity recommended by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DCEC), in addition to four transportation and five testing laboratory licenses.

Here are some of the other features of the law:

  • Qualifying conditions include but are not limited to cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, autism, a terminal illness where the patient is expected to live less than a year, and a chronic illness where opioids are the standard of care.
  • Licensing rules are promulgated by DHEC, which is also required to publish annual reports on the program.
  • Establish a “Medical Cannabis Advisory Board” with authority to add or remove qualifying terms.
  • South Carolina local governments could ban cannabis businesses or further limit the number of businesses that can be licensed in their area or their hours of operation.
  • Cannabis-infused edibles must contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving.
  • Doctors can specify the amount of cannabis a patient could purchase in a 14-day window, or they could recommend the standard 1,600 milligrams of THC for edibles, 8,200 milligrams for oils for vaping, and 4,000 milligrams for topical products like lotions.

What would the law mean for operators?

Like North Carolina’s proposed cannabis legislation (which we’ve written about here), South Carolina’s limited licensing regime would favor well-funded potential operators who can afford the expense of putting together a competitive application. But South Carolina’s bids may not be quite as competitive as North Carolina’s for several reasons:

  • Counting – North Carolina law allows only 10 licenses for cannabis cultivation (with each grower being able to obtain a separate issuance license). South Carolina law allows many more: (1) 15 cultivation licenses, (2) 30 processing licenses, (3) a few vertically integrated licenses, and (4) dozens of dispensary licenses.
  • population – North Carolina’s population is more than twice that of South Carolina (10.6 million vs. 5.2 million). North Carolina has two metro areas with populations over 2 million (Charlotte with 2.6 million and Raleigh with 2 million). The two largest South Carolinas, Greenville and Columbia, have fewer than 1 million residents.
  • Conditions of Participation – Both North Carolina and South Carolina have a relatively narrow list of qualifying conditions compared to other states’ medical cannabis programs. But South Carolina is narrower than North Carolina.

After all, South Carolina’s Compassionate Care Act, if enacted, will have no shortage of applicants vying for the licenses that would allow them to treat South Carolina’s qualified patients. The earlier potential applicants start preparing, the better.

While the fate of the new and improved South Carolina Compassionate Care Act remains to be seen, the reinstatement of the bill with the necessary procedural fixes signals that Senator Davis and his allies are continuing the fight for medicinal cannabis.

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