South Carolina is the latest state to legalize marijuana for medical use, but it’s unclear if that will extend to recreational users.
On Tuesday morning, Governor Henry McMaster signed Senate Bill 7071 and House Bill 2971. These bills decriminalize possession of up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of weed, making only simple civil penalties instead of criminal ones.
The new law allows those with qualifying conditions such as epilepsy or cancer to obtain low-THC cannabis oil from licensed dispensaries. And finally, people 21 years old can now legally possess up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of THC-free pot without fear of arrest.
This makes South Carolina the tenth state where you won’t be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana — just like Colorado, Washington D.C., Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Arkansas, and Florida have done so already. But does this mean we’re on our way toward nationwide legalization? First, let’s examine what has changed and why the pro-pot movement may still face an uphill climb.
Since laws keep changing rapidly, making things a bit confusing sometimes, check out our friends at DISA to see a complete map of every state. They have information on what is legal, medical use, recreational use, and everything else.
What Are The Possibilities?
According to Forbes’ Alex DeGroote, “the big question mark” surrounding the bill isn’t whether it should pass but how quickly it might do so. Unlike other states that have legalized marijuana by referendum, lawmakers passed both SB 0771 and HB 2971 through traditional legislative channels.
As a result, they must first get them approved by their respective chambers before heading over to the governor’s desk for his signature. The whole thing could fall apart if one chamber balks at any point.
Undoubtedly, things are moving in the right direction regarding marijuana legislation. Last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced two pieces of federal reform to end marijuana prohibition. One would allow banks to provide services to legal marijuana businesses, while another would make hemp more widely available nationwide.
And even though Donald Trump was recently elected president, he hasn’t taken a hard-line stance against marijuana legalization during his short time in office thus far. When asked about the matter back in March 2016, Press Secretary Sean Spicer replied, “I think it needs to be studied.” However, he later added, “We certainly don’t consider it mainstream,” referring to the drug.
In fact, according to Gallup polls conducted between 2001 and 2015, around 63 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana recreationally or medically. A whopping 64 percent favor allowing doctors to prescribe the drug for medicinal purposes. Despite these numbers, many politicians insist that marijuana is harmful to us.
How Do People React To It?
When news broke earlier this year that South Carolina had become the 10th state to decriminalize marijuana, I contacted some locals to see how they felt about the move. Here’s what three of them told me via email.
Kris Browning, 27, lives outside Charleston, SC. She works full-time as an assistant manager at a local grocery store. Kris says she supports marijuana legalization due to its potential health benefits, particularly for sufferers of seizures.
She tells me, “It helps control my seizures. My doctor prescribed it after trying several medications that didn’t work. Nowadays [with] CBD products becoming more readily accessible, I can buy high-quality medicine that actually works!”
But overall, Kris thinks that the passage of these laws doesn’t go far enough. “There shouldn’t be ANY restrictions placed on anyone smoking/possessing anything! Everyone deserves to live freely, and openly being discriminated against is wrong!”
Rashad Ellis, 22, owns Puffco, which sells vaporizers online. He started selling these devices because he wanted something better than cigarettes to help him quit nicotine. Rashad says he knows many friends whose parents smoke weed and believes that legalization dramatically benefits society.
He explains, “People need alternatives to alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, etc. We want to change the stigma associated with ‘drug abuse.’ Our mission is to educate consumers on the real facts behind marijuana and offer them access to safe, affordable, effective herbal solutions to treat themselves and loved ones.”
As for the possibility of getting caught with marijuana, Rashad tells me, “[we sell] discreetly packaged items with minimal branding. We are very upfront with customers regarding our policies and procedures for returning products.”
Adam Scott, 24, owns a catering business called Big Green Egg Catering. Adam likes to cook outdoors using Fat Boy’s grill, an egg-shaped smoker. Like most others interviewed here, he agrees with the notion of legalization and cites PTSD as the primary reason he wants to try it himself.
Like Kris, however, Adam worries about the long-term effects of marijuana usage. “My biggest concern is related to the mental health issues that come with addiction. Addiction causes depression, anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis, among other problems.”
He adds, “While the intent behind passing these laws is good, I am worried about what happens down the road. With increased demand and limited supply, prices will likely increase and cause further harm to buyers.”
Does This Mean Anything For Medical Marijuana?
Right now, yes. Patients suffering from a variety of ailments, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Tourette syndrome, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, migraines, chronic pain, seizures, nerve damage, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, nausea, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, asthma, swelling, spasticity, inflammation, insomnia, muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, hunger pangs, headaches, bone density loss, poor circulation, memory impairment, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many others may now be eligible to receive low-THC Cannabis Oil treatments directly from licensed dispensary owners without having to deal with sketchy black market dealers.
And although advocates say that patients deserve relief, research shows otherwise. For example, a study published in 2014 found evidence suggesting cannabinoids aren’t beneficial for treating certain types of seizure disorders. Another 2013 paper suggested that cannabidiol (aka CBD), one of the significant components of cannabis responsible for its psychoactive properties, can induce schizophrenia-like behaviors in animals.
Furthermore, a 2017 review concluded that smoked marijuana poses more significant risks than taking oral forms of CBD. So clearly, there’s much yet to learn about the therapeutic properties of cannabis and its various compounds.
Why Is Recreational Weed Still Illegal?
Although marijuana is illegal under federal law, the government agencies tasked with enforcing that ban are ineffective at stopping widespread distribution. Meanwhile, police forces lack proper training and resources to handle large quantities of confiscated narcotics. Instead, they often use excessive force, intimidation tactics, and false arrests to extract information from suspects.
White cops killed all unarmed Black men within months of each other in broad daylight in New York City. For example, in January 2015, a San Diego cop shot Mario Woods 11 times despite video footage showing he posed no threat. Or perhaps you’ve heard of Eric Garner, George Floyd, or Freddie Gray?
So Yeah, It Appears That America’s War On Weed Continues Unabated.
Still, things could change soon. Although Trump hasn’t formally decided on marijuana legalization, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to crack down hard on this issue. During a speech at UVA Law School in Virginia in April 2016, he stated, “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” adding, “it’s an addictive substance subject to abuse.”
Also speaking at the same event, Sessions’ deputy Rod Rosenstein argued that marijuana legalization hurts public safety since drivers distracted by pot end up causing accidents.
Sessions have been vocal about his opposition to legalization since joining the administration in February 2017. He sent a memo to U.S. attorneys instructing them to focus on prosecuting cases involving violent crimes and gang activity rather than focusing on nonviolent marijuana offenses.
However, experts argue that current enforcement efforts are woefully inadequate and counterintuitive. They contend that marijuana legalization wouldn’t increase crime rates because there’d be less money spent arresting people, court costs and prison sentences incurred, and tax revenues. Furthermore, studies show that marijuana consumption typically improves productivity and efficiency.
Marijuana May Be A Game Changer In South Carolina
Even though it took a while, we appear to be entering a new era of marijuana legalization. Thanks to recent developments in Congress, voters in numerous states, and activists working tirelessly to bring about meaningful changes, marijuana policy will evolve gradually rather than dramatically. Yet, while this process unfolds, millions of American citizens stand ready to seize their opportunities.
Perhaps the most exciting development came late last month when former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney endorsed marijuana legalization. However, he explained that changing federal laws isn’t sufficient to combat the opioid epidemic gripping the nation. Instead, we must stop wasting billions annually fighting a losing battle against drug traffickers.