SC House committee to hear public comment on medical marijuana bill Monday in Columbia
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina lawmakers have less than two months left to pass one of the highest-profile bills at the State House this year: legislation to legalize medical marijuana.
The Senate passed the SC Compassionate Care Act in early February, with both bipartisan support and opposition, but the legislation had been lying dormant until Thursday, when members of the House of Representatives took it up for the first time.
In less than 15 minutes, a five-member subcommittee unanimously voted to send the bill with a favorable report to the full House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee, better known as the 3-M Committee.
That committee is the only one with a Democratic majority and a Democratic chair, who said he likes its odds at advancing.
“I think the potential is very strong. The support on the 3-M Committee seems to be strong; the support in the House seems to be strong,” Rep. Leon Howard, D – Richland, said.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Tom Davis, R – Beaufort, has been pushing for the legislation for seven years and has described it as the strictest and most conservative medical marijuana legislation in the country, compared to the 37 states where it is already legal.
The bill only allows for use in oils, salves, patches, and vaporizers, so smoking marijuana would remain illegal.
A dozen medical conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy, would qualify for prescriptions, which doctors would need to approve in person.
Senators signed off on those terms after three long weeks of debate earlier this year, but Howard said there will certainly be pushes to change it in the lower chamber.
“The committee is going to be quite lively,” Howard said. “I understand that there are going to be members that offer amendments that basically kill the bill, that’s not for the bill. I understand from some people that there are members who are going to offer amendments to make certain changes.”
But before the committee considers any amendments and whether to advance bill itself to the House floor for debate, it will first hear public testimony on it Monday, during a 10 a.m. meeting.
That’s an unusual move, as public comment is typically limited to the subcommittee level, and lawmakers normally aren’t at the State House on Mondays. The 3-M subcommittee did allow public comment at its meeting Thursday, but no one spoke.
“It gives the 18 members of the [3-M] Committee an opportunity to participate, to express their opinion, to weigh in on whether they’re for or against the legislation,” Howard said, adding they expect the meeting to last long. “We wanted to be fair with the citizens of South Carolina. That’s why we decided to come in on a Monday and dedicate as much time as needed to hear the citizens of South Carolina.”
Committee members will only hear testimony Monday and will convene later in the week to discuss the bill and take up amendments, with a vote on whether to send it to the House floor for debate possible by the end of next week, according to Howard.
Any bill that does not become law by the end of this legislative session in May would die and have to be re-filed next year, at the beginning of a new, two-year legislative session.
Howard believes there is still enough time for this bill to pass the House and reach the governor’s desk before that deadline.
Gov. Henry McMaster, meanwhile, has not indicated if he would sign medical marijuana legislation into law.
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