Former Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham is running for office to unseat Republican incumbent Henry McMaster. Part of his campaign platform is the promise that if elected, he will push to legalize marijuana in South Carolina.
That’s a bold vow in a state where getting caught with just one ounce of weed could result in a $200 fine and month in jail. Getting arrested on a second offense could mean a $2,000 fine and an entire year spent in jail.
But Cunningham says making cannabis legal would generate millions in taxes and fees for a state that ranks in the Top 10 for states that require federal aid. He also said it offers health care options for residents of the state.
“This is going to be a game changer in South Carolina. There are so many reasons why we need to do this, and the time is now,” Cunningham told the Associated Press.
His proposal is the latest example of how marijuana legalization is making its way into The South.
What Cunningham Proposes to Do
Cunningham’s aim to legalize marijuana in South Carolina is likely to generate buzz around his campaign, at least for a time. But he is no stranger to that situation. When he flipped a long-time Republican congressional seat blue in 2018, he became a star of the Democratic party. However, he lost the seat just two years later in a close election.
As a candidate for governor, Cunningham is backing cannabis legalization because he believes it will address a host of problems faced by his state. He told the AP that his state is “dead last” in areas such as education and health care. Cannabis tax dollars could help fund programs in those areas.
He also said making cannabis legal frees police to focus on more violent criminals and provides another treatment option for those with chronic and terminal illnesses.
“This is something the people want,” Cunningham told the AP. “If our politicians aren’t reflecting the will of the people, then we have to change out the politicians, starting with Governor McMaster.”
Does Cunningham Have Any Chance?
The first step in thinking about making weed legal in The South is to contend with the reality of marijuana laws in The South. Virginia is the only state in the region of 125.5 million people to make cannabis legal for adult use, and that won’t start until 2024. Many of the medical marijuana programs in southern states are among the most restrictive in the country.
That makes Cunningham’s call to legalize marijuana in South Carolina a tough, uphill political climb. To date, the state’s lawmakers have passed just one law regarding cannabis: They gave the greenlight to the sale of CBD products that contain little or no THC, the chemical component in cannabis that causes the high.
The 74-year-old McMaster has been governor since 2017. He previously worked as U.S. District Attorney for South Carolina and in private practice for former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond. Voters will decide in the face in November 2022.