The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act would create a well-regulated medical cannabis program to allow individuals with serious illnesses to use and safely access medical cannabis when recommended by their physicians. Thirty-six states — including Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi — give their residents this medical freedom.
Here are key provisions of Senate Bill 150.
Qualifying for the Program: To qualify, patients must have at least one qualifying, debilitating medical condition and a written recommendation issued by a physician with whom they have a bona fide relationship. Patients must apply to the health department (DHEC) for a registration card that will allow access to dispensaries.
Debilitating Medical Conditions:
- The bill’s qualifying conditions are: cancer, multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease or disorder (including epilepsy), sickle cell anemia, glaucoma, PTSD, autism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cachexia, a condition causing a person to be home-bound that includes severe or persistent nausea, terminal illness with less than one-year life expectancy, a chronic medical condition causing severe and persistent muscle spasms, or a chronic medical condition for which an opioid is or could be prescribed based on standards of care.
- The bill would also create a Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, which would consider petitions to add other serious conditions to the program.
- If the patient is expected to recover within a year, or no longer needs cannabis, the physician must make a notation so their ID expires earlier.
- Patients could apply to the department to designate a caregiver to assist a qualifying patient with the medical use of cannabis, such as by picking up their cannabis from a dispensary. DHEC would issue caregivers a registration card.
- If the patient’s age, medical condition, or location requires more than one caregiver, they can submit evidence that one or more additional caregivers are necessary.
- Caregivers are limited to one patient, unless they are related to each patient by marriage or blood, in which case they may assist two patients.
- A healthcare facility may serve as a caregiver for any of their patients who are enrolled in program and who designate it as their caregiver. They must abide by additional rules.
- Smoking cannabis would remain illegal, as would paraphernalia used to smoke cannabis.
- Patients may not drive, operate a boat, train, or aircraft, or undertake any task that would be negligent or professional malpractice while under the influence of cannabis.
- Patients and caregivers would not be allowed to grow their own cannabis.
- A physician could specify the amount of cannabis products a patient could obtain in each 14-day period, and that limit would apply. Or, the physician could choose to instead have a default limit of two ounces, 1,600 milligrams of THC in ingested products (such as edibles), 8,200 milligrams in oils for vaporization, and 4,000 milligrams in topicals.
- Cardholders and medical cannabis establishment staffers who break the law can have their ID cards revoked and, where applicable, face civil and/or criminal penalties.
Legal Protections: The bill protects patients, caregivers, medical cannabis establishment staff, state-chartered banks, attorneys, accountants, doctors, and anyone who associates with them from arrest, prosecution, or penalties for actions allowed by the bill.
- Registered patients are protected from discrimination in child custody disputes and eligibility for organ transplants. Employers may continue to prohibit employees from working under the influence or using cannabis at or during work, along with enforcing a drug-free workplace policy.
Visiting Patients: Non-South Carolina residents could use medical cannabis while visiting if they: 1) are certified to use medical cannabis in their home state; 2) possess a statement from their physician certifying their medical condition qualifies under South Carolina law; and 3) submit any supporting documentation required by DHEC and receive a confirmation.
Medical Cannabis Establishments:
- After a merit-based, scored application process, DHEC will license 15 cultivation centers, 30 processing facilities, one dispensary for every 20 pharmacies in the state, five testing laboratories, and four transporters. The application process will consider location, background and qualifications, security plans (and SLED’s input on them), and localities’ preferences.
- Processing facilities will make products such as oils, consumable medicines, and salves.
- Testing laboratories will identify the amount of cannabinoids in cannabis products and test for pesticides, bacteria, and other contaminants.
Safeguards and Security:
- DHEC will create regulations, including for seed-to-sale tracking, odor mitigation, recordkeeping, oversight, security, health and safety, transportation, employee training, capital requirements, and packaging and labeling. DHEC will also restrict advertising, logos, and signage and ensure businesses have discreet, medical appearances. Cultivation centers’ security must include perimeter intrusion detection systems and a 24-hour surveillance system accessible to law enforcement and DHEC.
- Cannabis will be dispensed with a safety information flyer, including advice about possible risks, the need to safeguard cannabis from children, and noting federal law.
- Cannabis could only be grown and processed by licensees in a secure, enclosed facility, using a seed-to-sale tracking system. DHEC and SLED must approve the plans.
- Medical cannabis businesses may not be located within 1,000 feet of a school, unless an exception is needed for access. DHEC must prevent an overconcentration in any area.
- Law enforcement may inspect anywhere marijuana is grown, packaged, or processed.
- A 24-hour secure verification system will enable law enforcement to verify ID cards.
- Certifying physicians must complete a continuing medical education course on cannabis within a year of the first certification they issue or before certifying a 16th patient, whichever is first.
- Before certifying patients, physicians must conduct a thorough in-person evaluation, including a history of illness, past medical history, and alcohol and substance use history.
- Localities may regulate the location, hours, and number of medical cannabis businesses.
- Local governments may not completely prohibit dispensaries from operating in them.
Taxation and Fees:
- DHEC will determine application and registration fees for cardholders and medical cannabis establishments. The fees must be enough to cover regulatory costs.
- Cannabis will be taxed at the same rate as non-prescription medications, 6%. After covering the costs of administering the program, revenue will be distributed as follows: 3% for research on detecting impaired driving (until it is no longer needed); 2% to drug safety education, 5% to medical cannabis research, and 90% to the General Fund.