South Carolina will remain one of 13 states where medical cannabis is illegal in 2022 following a bill’s demise May 4 on the House floor.
The legislation, the SC Compassionate Care Act, passed the Senate by way of a 28-15 vote in February, after a marathon that included seven floor sessions: More than 65 changes were considered during a three-week period in the upper chamber.
But Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, challenged the bill’s constitutionality Wednesday on the House floor, arguing that the legislation creates a new tax and that revenue-raising bills must originate in the lower chamber.
The bill’s language states that all sales of cannabis products are subject to a 6% sales tax at the point of sale. After covering regulatory costs, the bill aimed to distribute revenue from the tax as follows: 3% for research and training to improve detection of impaired driving; 10% for alcohol and drug abuse prevention, education, early intervention and treatment; 5% to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED); 5% to medical cannabis research; 2% for drug safety education; and 75% to the general fund.
House Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, agreed with McCravy, reiterating that the 6% sales tax in the bill does involve a new revenue raise, and it is therefore unconstitutional because only the House holds that power.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, proposed an appeal to keep the bill alive, suggesting an amendment to strikeout the tax language should the body move forward on actually considering the legislation on the floor. But the House voted, 59-55, to table his appeal, essentially killing the legislation.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who sponsored the bill, watched the House vote with other Senate leaders who visited the lower chamber on Wednesday. They were dumbfounded as Rutherford’s effort to save the bill failed, The State reported.
“We suffered a setback procedurally in the House today,” Davis said. “I can’t cry about it. I can’t pout about it. I can’t come back and lash out and try to hurt other people’s bills. That’s not productive. I just need to find out a way to get this thing on the merits up or down in the House, and that’s what I’m going to be working on.”
Davis began crafting legislation and advocating for a medical cannabis program more than seven years ago, and this session, which ends May 12, has been the closest he’s been to realizing the fruits of his work.
Specifically, the failed bill would have included 13 qualifying conditions, with tight definitions of those conditions, and would have required doctors to have in-person relationships with patients, run background checks for a history of substance abuse, and create written treatment plans. In addition, smoking cannabis as a method for use would have been banned under the legislation.
“What I’m trying to do is let doctors do what they think is in their patients’ best interest. What is so radical about that?” Davis said on Jan. 26, before the Senate’s debate extended to several more floor sessions. “What’s radical is, is that we’re letting law enforcement and politicians tell doctors what’s in their patients’ best interest. That’s what’s ludicrous!”
With Wednesday’s defeat, South Carolina and its neighbors—North Carolina and Georgia—remain without a legal means for patients to access cannabis.
Under South Carolina’s current laws and penalties, possessing 1 ounce or less of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days of incarceration and a max fine of $200, while subsequent offenses are punishable by up to one year of incarceration with a max fine of $2,000.