Former Democratic congressman Joe Cunningham, 39, announced his run to unseat South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster—with the promise to legalize medical and adult-use cannabis in his state. He believes that by doing so, the state could offer healthcare options and rake in potentially millions in tax revenue.
In one of the least cannabis-friendly states in the nation, legalizing both medical and adult-use cannabis would lead to drastic changes, given the state’s deeply embedded Southern culture. But Cunningham believes that the state is ready for change.
“This is going to be a game changer in South Carolina,” Cunningham told The Associated Press. “There are so many reasons why we need to do this, and the time is now.”
Cunningham became the first in decades to flip a South Carolina congressional seat from red to blue in 2018. Two years later, he narrowly lost the 1st Congressional District to Republican challenger Nancy Mace during the same night of several other GOP wins across South Carolina.
Cannabis is the only way forward if you want to win, the candidate said. “People are behind it, and politicians need to get behind it, too,” said Cunningham. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel and other leaders pushed against legalization, arguing that cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. But Cunningham explained that his plan would help leaders like Keel do their jobs by freeing up officers to focus instead on true crimes.
“His job is to enforce the law,” Cunningham said. “And what we’re going to be doing is changing the law to prioritize where those resources are spent.”
Cunningham’s team raised $634,000 since launching the campaign two months ago, setting a new record for a South Carolina Democratic gubernatorial challenger in their debut fundraising quarter, according to The Associated Press.
Cunningham admitted that cannabis is of course a complex issue, but added that his proposal is one way to take advantage of what he sees as an unstoppable wave of change taking place across the country.
“It’s money we’re passing up,” Cunningham said. “I’m not going to be the governor who sits on his hands.”
How Joe Cunningham Could Change South Carolina
In America’s patchwork of medical and adult-use cannabis laws, most states have adopted some sort of medical cannabis system by now, but South Carolina is lagging. South Carolina’s Hemp Farming Act provides for industrial hemp and hemp-derived CBD oils, but there is not much else wiggle room in the state.
According to Marijuana Policy Project, South Carolina is one of only 14 states that does not allow medical cannabis. Veterans and other patients continue to plead with South Carolina lawmakers to make a change.
Sen. Tom Davis (R) filed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act late last year. While the 2021 legislative session came and went, Davis announced on Twitter that he received assurances from a top Senate leader that his measure will be taken up as the first order of business at the beginning of next year in 2022.
Davis confirmed to FITSNews that he’s received a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R) that the bill will be taken up in 2022 for a special order debate as the first order of business.
Surveys taken in recent years show increasing support for medical and adult-use cannabis in South Carolina. A survey showed that 72 percent of respondents back cannabis reform, while just 15 percent are opposed. A 2018 Benchmark Research poll similarly found 72 percent support for the reform, including nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent of Republicans.