During this week's primary election, Democrats in South Carolina voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure supporting the legalization of medical cannabis in the Palmetto State. The ballot measure does not change state law, however, as it was only an advisory question, asking voters whether they would support "a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients," Forbes reports.
Former U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, head of Palmetto Medical Cannabis LLC, asked both major political parties to include the advisory measure on their ballot, but only Democrats agreed. "It allows the party to take the temperature of the electorate," Nettles explained to the Greenville News. Over 80% of Democrats in the state voted in favor of the ballot question, clearly signaling their support for a medical cannabis law.
Although South Carolina legalized the use of CBD as a treatment for epileptic children in 2014, legislators have so far failed to approve a more comprehensive medical cannabis program. In January of 2017, state Sen. Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy proposed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, which would enact a limited medical cannabis program allowing patients with a small number of qualifying conditions to consume MMJ in oil or edible form.
"Republicans and Democrats believe that individuals that are ill should have access to cannabis as a medicine," state Sen. Tom Davis said to the Greenville News. "And the math is clear that it's helpful on opioid use if nothing else."
Legislators proposed a number of amendments to limit the scope of the bill, preventing sales of cannabis in plant form, and allowing police to oversee any stage of cannabis cultivation or production. These conservative safeguards were not enough to get the bill through the state legislature, though. The bill narrowly passed a Senate committee, but was stalled by the Republican state House leadership, preventing it from coming up for a vote before the end of this year's legislative session.
Proponents of the bill are much more confident that it will pass during next year's legislative session, and the passage of the ballot measure makes it clear that many of the state's voters are in favor of medical marijuana. Although the measure only recorded the views of the state's Democratic minority, a 2016 poll found that 78% of voters in South Carolina are in favor of medical cannabis, regardless of party affiliation. A more recent poll found that 61% of voters support medical marijuana, a smaller percentage but still a majority.