JThe General Assembly may soon legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina under a proposal that has so far passed only one legislative chamber.

But South Carolinas with serious and debilitating medical conditions won’t have immediate access to buy marijuana if the legislation becomes law.

The legislation faces an uncertain future in the House after the Senate passed the bill this month in a 28-15 vote, ending about seven years of debate. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, assigned the legislation to the Medical, Military, Public, and Municipal Affairs Committee — the only House committee chaired by a Democrat and where Democrats make up the majority of members.

Gov. Henry McMaster, meanwhile, did not say whether he would veto the legislation if it reached his office.

Here are seven key things South Carolina should know about the medical marijuana bill:

Who would be allowed to obtain medical cannabis?

Only people with chronic conditions—cancer, epilepsy or other neurological diseases or disorders, terminal illnesses, multiple sclerosis, Chron’s disease, sickle cell disease, ulcerative colitis, autism, wasting syndrome, and post-traumatic stress disorder—could buy and consume medical marijuana.

Licensed physicians should prescribe medical marijuana to people with severe end-of-life nausea or severe pain. And it could also be prescribed instead of opioids for patients with chronic or debilitating conditions.

Medical marijuana would only be available in certain types of pharmacies.

South Carolina in 2014 legalized the use of cannabis oil to treat epilepsy.

So far, 37 states allow medical marijuana, including Mississippi which legalized use earlier this month.

What forms of medical marijuana would be allowed?

People who are prescribed marijuana could get topical treatments, such as patches, lotions, creams, and ointments containing no more than 4,000 milligrams of THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana.

People who consume medical cannabis orally would be allowed to have oils, herbal extracts, capsules or edibles containing no more than 1,600 milligrams of THC. And those who vape marijuana could get oils with no more than 8,200 milligrams.

The limits are the amount of medical marijuana a person can be prescribed over a two-week period.

The raw form of marijuana that can be smoked is still illegal under the law.

When could patients buy the cannabis?

That timeline is yet to be determined – but it could take a while.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control would be responsible for rolling out the program and would handle the licensing of marijuana suppliers.

For perspective, Georgia, which in April 2019 passed legislation allowing the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the licensing of low-THC oil sales in the state, does not has still not taken full effect.

The Cannabis Commission granted licenses to companies to sell medical marijuana in July 2021.

“If this current (South Carolina) bill becomes law, DHEC will endeavor to take prompt action as necessary to fulfill its obligations to implement the requirements of the bill, such as requests or licenses,” spokeswoman Laura Renwick said.

Where would people get medical marijuana?

Short answer: Not in traditional pharmacies.

Marijuana will only be sold in a medical cannabis pharmacy and dispensed by a pharmacist.

The senators agreed to allow up to 15 grow centers, 30 processing facilities and one marijuana pharmacy for every 20 pharmacies in the state. Licensing these facilities by DHEC would take time.

How much tax will people pay for medical marijuana?

The legislation provides for a 6% sales tax on medical marijuana.

The bill’s lead sponsor, State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, stressed, however, that the legislation was not intended to make money.

Does this mean that legalized recreational use is on the way?

Probably not, at least not soon.

Davis called his proposal the most conservative medical marijuana bill in the nation, which was necessary for the measure to pass the Senate.

Republican leaders have said they have no desire to legalize recreational marijuana use, a position shared by some Democrats. McMaster, who is running for re-election this year in the Reliable Republican state, is against recreational use.

Would medical marijuana be here to stay if it became legal?

Probably, but that decision is a few years away.

The legislation includes a sunset clause to December 31, 2028.

So if the medical marijuana bill becomes law, lawmakers would need to reauthorize the program before the end of 2028.

Joseph Bustos is a state government and politics reporter at The State. He graduated from Northwestern University and previously worked in Illinois covering government and politics. He won reporting awards in Illinois and Missouri. He moved to South Carolina in November 2019.
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