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Cunningham calls for end of ‘prohibition on marijuana’ in South Carolina

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 7:10 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2021 at 5:57 PM EDT
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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - A Democrat running to unseat South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster says he will legalize marijuana if he is elected in 2022.

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham says that would offer health care options and spin off millions in tax revenue.

Cunningham said Monday the state’s marijuana laws are “stuck in the past.”

“Our country has been fighting the war against marijuana for decades. It’s time for elected officials to admit that what we are doing is not been working,” he said at a 2 p.m. news conference.

He called for an end to the prohibition on marijuana in the state.

“It’s time to start regulating and taxing,” he said.

He said his proposal calls for expunging the records of anyone convicted of a low-level marijuana-related offense, which he says would give people a second chance at life.

“Expunging these records will allow countless South Carolinians to have more productive and successful life for them and their families,” he said. “Regulating and taxing marijuana would also generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue, allowing our state to finally provide critical funding to fix our schools, fix our roads, expand Medicaid, give our hard working teachers the pay raise that they deserve, or even substantially cut taxes on South Carolina families.”

Cunningham says there’s support for legalization in South Carolina and that his plan would shore up the state’s finances by taking advantage of what he sees as an inevitable wave of change across the country.

He accused politicians, including McMaster, of spending their entire careers “perpetuating myths about marijuana, scaring people into thinking that it’s more dangerous than it is.”

Worst of all, he said, they have kept it out of the people who need it the most, he said, including veterans, those with chronic pain and communities of color who he said have been disproportionately impacted by enforcement.

Former U.S. attorney Bill Nettles also spoke at the news conference in support of marijuana legalization. He said law enforcement resources are wasted every day on catching and punishing marijuana growers and users.

Other speakers included a Navy nurse who has suffered from PTSD and said marijuana could be an essential treatment for veterans. Farmers attended to show support, too. The son of a cancer patient spoke about how cannabis helped his father gain weight while undergoing chemotherapy because it helped increase his appetite.

Cunningham said we need to follow other Southern states like Alabama and Mississippi that are finding ways to regulate and tax marijuana to benefit the state. Republican and South Carolina Senate majority leader Shane Massey promised there will be a vote to consider a medical cannabis bill in 2022.

South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick responded to Cunningham’s announcement Monday afternoon in a statement:

We’ve seen the problems legalizing marijuana has caused in other states, like Colorado. The rise in crime, the increase in health problems–especially suicidal thoughts and the negative affect on children’s development, all became worse when the state decided to legalize marijuana. If you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes, and Democrats like Joe Cunningham keep wanting to play with fire. Does Mia McLeod agree with his proposal? Or does she stand with law enforcement on the issue? We stand with law enforcement, that weed should not be legalized, but since Democrats supported and refused to condemn the defund the police movement, we’re not feeling too hopeful on her position.

And as far as medical use goes, we agree with law enforcement and doctors that real medicine is something that should be approved and regulated by the FDA, prescribed by a legitimate doctor, and distributed by a licensed pharmacist.

Cunningham announced 1st quarter campaign fundraising record

Cunningham said last week he broke a fundraising record in the state for the highest money a candidate has pulled in during the first quarter of a gubernatorial campaign.

Cunningham said in a release Tuesday he has raised a total of $634,000, beating the record held by Vincent Sheheen, who raised $611,314 in the first quarter of his 2014 race.

“We are building a campaign unlike anything South Carolina has ever seen and we will have the resources to communicate our message to voters across this state,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham entered the race on April 26.

Cunningham served one term in the U.S. House representing South Carolina’s First Congressional District. He was defeated in November in his re-election bid by Nancy Mace.

Cunningham is listed along with McMaster, Mia McLeod, James E. Smith Jr., Mindy Steele and Gary Votour on the State Ethics Commission’s website.

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