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COLUMBIA, S.C. (Jan. 24, 2023) – A bill introduced in the South Carolina Senate would legalize medical marijuana in the state despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition. The bill would also prohibit some state cooperation with the enforcement federal acts that criminalize the use of marijuana authorized in South Carolina.
Sen. Thomas Davis (R) and Bradley Hutto (D) introduced Senate Bill 423 (S423) on January 19. The legislation would legalize medical marijuana for patients with serious medical conditions as determined by their physicians and create a regulatory structure for a state medical cannabis program.
Significantly, the legislation would specifically ban any state or local agencies from directly or indirectly informing a federal agency or federal official that a person owns, possesses, purchases, or may attempt to own, possess, or purchase a firearm or ammunition while possessing or using medical cannabis or while being a qualifying patient, designated caregiver, or agent of a medical cannabis establishment.
S423 also includes provisions prohibiting state or local enforcement of federal banking laws related to cannabis.
“A bank, savings and loan association, or credit union, licensed attorney, or certified public accountant, and all associated employees, are not subject to arrest by state or local law enforcement, prosecution or penalty under state or local law, the denial of a right or privilege for engaging in conduct authorized by this article, or professional discipline for providing advice or services related to medical cannabis establishments or applications to operate medical cannabis establishments on the basis that cannabis is illegal under federal law.”
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Legalizing medical marijuana would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in South Carolina even though federal prohibition remains in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana in November, there are now 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 21 legalizing for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.”
S423 was referred to the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs where it must get a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.