South Carolina lawmakers consider new medical marijuana bills

South Carolina lawmakers are weighing bills that would legalize all medical marijuana, sparing patients from serious penalties imposed under state law.

From 2008 to 2012, the rate of marijuana-related arrests rose faster in South Carolina than in any other state, according to The Huffington Post. While some people in Greenville are arrested for the alleged recreational use of this drug, many others may face criminal charges for attempting to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Fortunately, state lawmakers are now considering legislation that could enable more people to use medical marijuana without risking criminal penalties.

Broader legalization proposed

Earlier this year, lawmakers introduced bills in the House and Senate that would build on changes to state medical marijuana laws that were approved in 2014. According to Fox News, that year, lawmakers legalized the medicinal use of cannibidiol oil, which is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. The new legislation would allow medicinal use of the entire marijuana plant, without any restrictions on the amount of cannabidiol oil or THC.

The overall availability of medical marijuana would still be restricted under both bills. For instance, according to WSPA News, the Senate bill would require patients to secure a prescription from a doctor. Additionally, only certain medical ailments would be eligible for this type of treatment. Still, the passage of either bill could help significantly reduce the number of people who are left facing criminal charges after attempting to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Current penalties for possession

At present, people in South Carolina can face significant penalties for alleged possession, distribution or manufacturing of marijuana, regardless of their reasons for possessing the drug. The potential sanctions for various infractions are as follows:

  • Possession of less than one ounce - misdemeanor charges and up to 30 days imprisonment.
  • Possession of at least one ounce - misdemeanor charges, up to one year of imprisonment and fines up to $1,000.
  • Delivery or distribution of at least one ounce without intent to profit or cause addiction - misdemeanor charges, up to six months imprisonment and fines up to $1,000.
  • Possession of at least an ounce with alleged intent to distribute -up to 10 years imprisonment and fines up to $10,000.

The sanctions for secondary offenses and possession of greater amounts are even more stringent. Some of these offenses also carry mandatory minimum prison sentences, regardless of any mitigating circumstances.

Legal defenses

Unfortunately, even if this legislation is passed next year, there is still a potential for medical marijuana users to make missteps and end up facing serious criminal charges. Additionally, state laws don't protect medical marijuana users from being charged with serious federal drug crimes, as marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 substance.

The serious penalties that can follow a conviction underscore why anyone accused of a marijuana-related offense should consider speaking with an attorney. An attorney may be able to offer advice on challenging the charges or mitigating the consequences of a conviction.