In most of the U.S. — 38 states plus Washington, D.C. — medical marijuana is legal. Washington, D.C., and 23 states allow the use of recreational marijuana.
South Carolina is one of only 12 states that does not allow either medical or recreational use of cannabis. Worse yet, South Carolina marijuana laws still punish low-level users with incarceration and a permanent criminal record.
State senators introduced a bill in early 2023 to create a medical marijuana program. The bill stalled in the chamber’s Medical Affairs Committee and has no chance to proceed to a vote until 2024. But with similar bills introduced in both 2022 and 2023, medical marijuana might become a reality in South Carolina within the next few years.
What are the marijuana laws in South Carolina?
Marijuana and THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, are listed as Schedule I controlled substances in South Carolina. This scheduling exposes cannabis users to the same punishments as LSD or methamphetamine users.
Specifically, South Carolina marijuana laws still criminalize:
The state has no exceptions or safe harbor laws for possessing, buying, selling, or growing marijuana for your personal use. On the contrary, the state’s laws criminalize the possession, sale, and cultivation of any amount of marijuana.
When these crimes involve an ounce or more of marijuana, the offender is presumed to have the intent to distribute. Prosecutors can use this law to charge the person with a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Additionally, the state criminalizes the possession, use, sale, and advertisement of drug paraphernalia.
South Carolina defines paraphernalia to include water pipes. If a police officer sees a bong in your vehicle, the officer can probably get a search warrant. If the officer finds more than an ounce of marijuana, you could face serious prison time.
Defenses to South Carolina Marijuana Laws
At the same time, the state recognizes that charges for marijuana-related crimes can ruin a person’s life. Imprisonment, even for a brief period, can result in job loss, eviction, and significant debts. And after you get released, having a criminal record could:
- Jeopardize professional licenses
- Place roadblocks to housing and employment
- Get you kicked out of school or threaten your financial aid
- Provide a basis for denying you access to your children
- Make you ineligible for some government assistance programs
Fortunately, a marijuana defense attorney knows how to fight against these charges. For example, South Carolina marijuana laws provide courts with the option for a “conditional discharge.” Under this option, the court can defer the charges and put you on probation so you can attend drug treatment.
After you complete all the conditions of your probation, the court can dismiss the charges without entering a conviction on your record. You will have an arrest record and a record that charges were filed. But no records will show you were guilty of the charges.
Alternatively, you can defend yourself on the merits of the case. Marijuana laws require intent. You might be able to avoid a conviction with evidence that:
- You did not know that the substance was marijuana
- You did not know the marijuana was in your possession
For example, if the police found marijuana in your car, your marijuana defense attorney might provide evidence that a friend stashed the marijuana under your seat without your knowledge.
The Future of South Carolina Marijuana Laws
The Compassionate Care Act was introduced in the South Carolina legislature in 2022 and 2023. Although it has been stalled twice, momentum seems to be building toward a medical marijuana system.
Under this system, people with specific conditions could obtain marijuana for personal use after receiving a prescription from a physician. This prescription would shield the person from criminal punishment for possession of marijuana.
Facing Marijuana Charges
In the meantime, possession, sale, and cultivation of marijuana remain illegal in South Carolina. You could face charges and, if convicted, undergo stiff punishment.
If you have been charged under South Carolina’s marijuana laws, contact the Law Office of Mo Abusaft, a criminal defense firm in Spartanburg, SC.