March 23, 2023

Volume XIII, Number 82


March 23, 2023

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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, geologic, and otherwise. But to date, nada.

That may change soon, as the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act has been refiled with procedural fixes designed 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 medical cannabis bill – the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act – was passed by the South Carolina Senate but died in the House after it was ruled unconstitutional. This month, Sen. Tom Davis (R) has breathed new life into the push for medical cannabis in South Carolina.

Davis filed a new version of the Act, which does away with language prescribing a tax on medical cannabis sales that led to the House’s rejection of the last bill on constitutional grounds.

What Sort of Medical Cannabis Program Would the Act Establish?

The Act’s main substance remains unchanged. It would couple a relatively narrow list of qualifying conditions with a licensing regime most akin to Alabama’s, with separate license types for each part of the cannabis supply chain.

The Act would allow 15 “cultivation center” licenses, 30 “processing facility” licenses, one “therapeutic cannabis pharmacy” (the Act’s term for a dispensary) license for every 20 traditional pharmacies in the state, and “integrated operator” (the Act’s term for a vertically integrated operator) licenses in an amount recommended by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DCEC), in addition to four transportation and five testing lab licenses.

Here are a few of the Act’s other features:

  • Qualifying conditions will include cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, autism, a terminal illness where the patient is expected to live for less than one year, and a chronic illness where opioids are the standard of care, among others.

  • Licensing rules will be promulgated by the DHEC, which must also publish annual reports on the program.

  • Establishment of a “Medical Cannabis Advisory Board,” which will have the power to add or remove qualifying conditions.

  • Local South Carolina governments would be able to ban cannabis businesses or place additional restrictions on the number of businesses that can be licensed in their area or their hours of operation. 

  • Cannabis-infused edibles cannot contain more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving.

  • Doctors will be able to specify the amount of cannabis that a patient could purchase in a 14-day window, or they could recommend the default standard of 1,600 milligrams of THC for edibles, 8,200 milligrams for oils for vaporization, and 4,000 milligrams for topicals like lotions.

What Would the Act Mean for Operators?

Like North Carolina’s proposed cannabis legislation (which we wrote about here), South Carolina’s limited license regime would favor well-financed potential operators that can afford the cost of putting together a competitive application. But South Carolina’s applications may not be quite as competitive as North Carolina’s for several reasons:

  • Numbers – North Carolina’s Act only allows 10 cannabis cultivation licenses (with each cultivator allowed to obtain separate dispensary licenses). South Carolina’s Act allows far more: (1) 15 cultivation licenses, (2) 30 processing licenses, (3) some number of vertically integrated licenses, and (4) dozens of dispensary licenses.

  • Population – North Carolina’s population is more than two times greater than South Carolina’s (10.6 million vs. 5.2 million). North Carolina has two metro areas with over 2 million people (Charlotte with 2.6 million and Raleigh with 2 million). South Carolina’s two largest, Greenville and Columbia, have less than 1 million.

  • Qualifying Conditions – North Carolina and South Carolina both have a relatively narrow list of qualifying conditions compared to other states’ medical cannabis programs. But South Carolina’s is narrower than North Carolina’s.

With all of that said, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, if enacted, will have no shortage of applicants vying for the licenses that would allow them to serve South Carolina’s qualifying patients. The sooner potential applicants start preparing, the better.

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

We will continue to monitor the progress of the legislation and post updates as warranted.

© 2023 Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLPNational Law Review, Volume XIII, Number 32

About this Author

Whitt Steineker Cannabis Attorney Bradley Birmingham

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