COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD)- For some, April 20 is more than just a typical Thursday.
April 20, or 4/20 on the calendar, is an unofficial holiday celebrated by weed enthusiasts nationwide. It is also a day that advocates use to reiterate calls for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.
While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, 38 U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical use. 20 states and the District of Columbia allow people to use the drug recreationally, too.
Both medical and recreational cannabis use is currently illegal in South Carolina, but several bills residing in Statehouse could change that.
Senate Bill 423, known as the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act” would legalize medical marijuana, allowing doctors to treat patients with certain medical conditions with pot. It favorably passed the Senate Medical Affairs Committee earlier this year.
House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) on Thursday said it is “high time” the House and Senate pass the legislation.
“The Compassionate Care Act will expand freedom, give patients an alternative to opioids, and has the pot-ential to boost our economy,” Rutherford said. “This joint effort by Democrats and Republicans is backed by the majority of South Carolinians and needs to get passed.”
A similar bill was passed by the Senate during last year’s legislative session but was ruled dead in the House due to a procedural challenge.
The Senate is also considering a bill that would place a referendum on the ballot during the 2024 general election to ask voters whether the state should legalize recreational and medical marijuana use. That bill remains in committee.
There are three bills introduced in the House that would decriminalize cannabis statewide, meaning it would remain illegal, but a person would not be prosecuted for possession under a certain amount. Instead, penalties might include civil fines, drug education, or drug treatment– and maybe no penalty at all.
Both H.3803 and H.3561 would decriminalize possession of fewer than 28 grams (one ounce) of marijuana and less than 10 grams of hashish. Law enforcement would still be authorized to issue citations.
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Rutherford, H.3135, specifically targets veterans and would decriminalize possession for service members who are diagnosed with PTSD.
In the legislation, lawmakers assert that decriminalizing low-level marijuana offenses would “free up the necessary time and money to go after violent criminals.”
All three have been referred to the Judiciary subcommittee.
Where do South Carolinians stand on the issue?
Americans have become increasingly supportive of efforts to legalize recreational and medicinal cannabis use, including in South Carolina.
According to a recent Winthrop University poll, 76% of people said they are in favor of laws that would legalize medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor, with the majority of both Republicans and Democrats agreeing.
Recreational use of marijuana is where the parties differ. While slightly more than half (56%) of the general population said they support legalizing recreational use, Republicans were almost evenly split on the issue. On the other hand, only 26% of Democrats said they would oppose such laws.