“The Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act” – SC Medical Marijuana Law


Every few weeks we have an advocate who brings up the old medical marijuana law South Carolina passed in 1980 known as the “Controlled Substance Research Act.” So, we thought we would ask an attorney to break down this old legislation. This will help to clarify what this law really says and why it is not workable to help patients gain access to legal medical cannabis.

First thing to note is that for this to work, the FDA, the DEA, NIDA, NIH and the DOJ would have to all accept marijuana as a legal medicine. The second would be that the burden of setting up the program and the cost of the program would lay on the state! This includes the cost of the medical marijuana that would be distributed. Once these federal agencies all agreed that medical marijuana was legal, the state would then have to set up a program to source the material, manufacture, and dispense medical marijuana free of charge to patients in the state.  This would be a huge burdensome financial responsibility for South Carolina if it were possible. The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act details what the state would have to do… but it would be through the private sector alleviating any financial burden to the state.

Even if the government rescheduled marijuana to a Schedule 2 drug, classified by the DEA as having a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence, it will not warrant the above referenced federal agencies to allow the State of South Carolina to enact the Controlled Substance Research Act. Keep in mind methamphetamine is a scheduled 2 drug and we don’t have methamphetamine dispensaries in any state. Also, the same process we are going through setting up the Compassionate Care Act program would be the same process the state would have to go through when (or if) all those federal agencies came to one agreement. Basically, short of the federal government de-scheduling marijuana, this old bill is not workable. And even if that were possible, the cost to the state would be exponential. This is the reason why it is so vital to pass the CCA in our state.


The Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research law, S.C. Code Ann. §§ 44-53-610 to 44-53-660, was adopted in 1980, and provides a mechanism for the Department of Health and Environmental Control to establish a “controlled substances therapeutic research program.” The law authorizes the department director to adopt rules and initiate the program so long as it is consistent with rules and requirements by the Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institutes of Health.

If those agencies allowed such a program, the director of the health department could adopt rules to create the state system. Patients who are treated with cancer chemotherapy, radiology patients, and glaucoma patients could seek to participate. To qualify, they would be submitted by a physician to a patient qualification review advisory board for approval (which consists of doctors in several specified fields of medicine). The patient must be involved in a life-threatening or sense-threatening situation and who does not respond to conventional controlled substances, or where they have proven effective but the patient experiences painful side effects. The department could add more medical conditions after a review of research.

The state health department director would obtain cannabis “through whatever means he deems most appropriate consistent with federal law,” ship it to one or more secure facilities around the state, where it would be distributed to approved patients. There would be no cost to the patient for marijuana, but the state could charge for other services.

If federal law were to change and the agencies listed above approved of such a program, the health department would have the option to establish it. Nothing would happen by default – the state would need to create the program and initiate it. The two big differences between this and the types of programs already adopted in 32 states, is that the cannabis would be distributed by the state itself and not by private actors, and secondly the cannabis would most likely come from cultivators who are approved by the DEA (since it would need to be compliant with DEA rules).


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