South CarolinaThis is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now reaching the point in our series where the states we are listing are not laughably (or should we say screamingly) bad, nor are they good. They are generally okay in some areas and bad (without being horrible) in others. Today we turn to number 31: South Carolina. 

Our previous rankings are as follows: 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34. Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

South Carolina

Criminal Law. South Carolina punishes the first offense for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana with no more than thirty days in prison and a fine of less than $100. Courts may grant a conditional discharge if the defendant agrees to attend an approved drug abuse program. Any subsequent offenses can earn up to a year in prison and a fine of $200-$1,000. A judge retains discretion to suspend a sentence in favor of probation, parole, community service or another alternative punishment.

Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana is evidence of intent to distribute, dispense, or deliver marijuana. Penalties for possession or sale of larger amounts of marijuana are as follows:

  • One ounce to 10 pounds earns a maximum 5-year sentence and a maximum $5,000 fine.
  • 10-100 pounds can earn different sentences, based on whether the person caught with marijuana is a repeat offender. The first offense earns a sentence between 1-10 years and a maximum $10,000 fine. The second offense earns a sentence between 5-20 years and a maximum $25,000 fine. A third or subsequent offense earns a mandatory 25-year sentence and a maximum $25,000 fine.
  • 100-2,000 pounds earns a mandatory 25-year sentence and a maximum $25,000 fine.
  • Over 2,000 pounds earns a sentence of 25-30 years and a maximum $50,000 fine.

Medical Marijuana. South Carolina allows the use of high-CBD, low-THC oil for certain qualifying patients. The South Carolina State Legislature recently voted down a bill that would have expanded South Carolina’s medical cannabis program. Had that law passed, South Carolina would have allowed patients suffering from debilitating illnesses to use medical marijuana. The medical marijuana bill would have created a state-regulated system of growers, processors, dispensers and labs. A summary of the bill by the Marijuana Policy Project is available here.

Industrial Hemp. In 2014, Governor Nikki Haley signed into law the Industrial Hemp Act, which has been codified in the South Carolina Code of Laws. The Act removes criminal liability for cultivating hemp and defines industrial hemp as “all parts and varieties of the plant cannabis sativa, cultivated or possessed by a licensed grower, whether growing or not, that contain” less than .o3 THC concentration per dry weight basis. The law requires cultivators be licensed, but provides no method for cultivators to obtain these licenses and no state agency has taken on the task of licensing South Carolina hemp growers. The state legislature attempted to fix this glaring hole with subsequent legislation but they have so far not succeeded in passing an amendment that would actually accomplish that.

Despite the licensing uncertainty, the hemp industry in South Carolina has haltingly gotten underway. The Free Times chronicled the approach taken by one local SC hemp farmer:

Janel Ralph is one farmer who’s pressing ahead.

At [a hemp advocate] meeting, Ralph detailed all the work she’s put into her business so far. She developed a comprehensive business plan, and obtained letters from state lawmakers saying growing hemp is legal, then approached insurance companies until she found one willing to insure her property and company. She then approached “about 15 different banks,” she said — and there, too, eventually found one willing to work with her. She got all the proper zoning and farm permits. She partnered with a processing facility in Kentucky. She secured a source for hemp tissue cultures.

And then, she says, she called the cops.

“When I contacted SLED, they literally told me this is not their jurisdiction,” she said. “It’s agricultural.”

So she told Horry County law enforcement and her district solicitor what she was up to.

“I think there’s a lot of stalling on the politicians’ part,” Ralph said. “You’ve just got to step up and do it.”

Stalling by politicians on hemp/cannabis? We are shocked. Ralph’s comments embody the spirit of many in the marijuana industry where entrepreneurial figures have taken charge despite massive legal uncertainty. South Carolina’s politicians may eventually act to cure the defects in  the Industrial Hemp Act, but it appears many in the industry are not going to wait around for that.

Bottomline. South Carolina has relatively tough criminal penalties for large amounts of marijuana, but relatively relaxed penalties for less than an ounce. South Carolina Courts are also able to offer alternatives to jail time for low-level offenses. South Carolina’s medical marijuana regime is severely lacking, but its semi-regulated hemp industry appears to be gearing up. South Carolina is flawed in its marijuana laws but it shows just enough promise to rank 31 out of 50.