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Democratic South Carolina Governor Nominee Welcomes Incumbent’s Attacks Over ‘Popular’ Marijuana Legalization Plans



Marijuana policy has reared its head in yet another gubernatorial race this election cycle, with the Republican South Carolina incumbent attempting to dissuade voters from electing his Democratic opponent because he supports marijuana legalization.

And Joe Cunningham, a former Democratic congressman, is welcoming the attention to his popular, and increasingly bipartisan, stance of cannabis reform.

Gov. Henry McMaster’s (R) campaign released an ad that attacks the Democratic nominee as a “frat boy,” playing a clip of him cracking open a can on beer on the U.S. House floor in late 2020 as a gesture calling for bipartisanship.

(Shortly after this story was first published, the McMaster campaign made the YouTube video of their ad private, and then later reposted it. In case the ad is taken down again, an archived version can still be seen here.)

The narrator then says “Joe loves weed and voted against the police” as a smokey filter is added to a video of him, before suggesting that he lost his seat for voting in step with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) on a majority of legislation.

For what it’s worth, Cunningham was unseated in his congressional reelection race by now-Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who strongly supports cannabis legalization and introduced a bill to end prohibition last year.

Cunningham responded to the governor’s ad by thanking him for “pushing my incredibly popular plan to legalize marijuana in his new TV ad.”

“Since the governor clearly has no new ideas of his own to share, it’s nice he decided to spend some of his money on mine,” he said, adding that his opponent’s campaign mischaracterized his position on law enforcement and questioning McMaster’s own college fraternity affiliations.

A statement from the Cunningham campaign said that “Henry McMaster is so out of touch with the people of South Carolina that he actually thinks highlighting Joe’s support for marijuana legalization in an ad is a bad thing.”

“McMaster wants to control your life, probably because he can’t seem to control anything else in South Carolina,” it said.

The McMaster ad isn’t the first time that Cunningham has faced GOP criticism over his advocacy for marijuana reform.

After the gubernatorial candidate came out with a plan to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational purposes, South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick voiced opposition and said the Democratic candidate wants to “play with fire” by embracing the policy change.

But notably, a GOP South Carolina lawmaker came to Cunningham’s defense last year.

Rep. Tom Davis (R) said at the time that his own party’s stance, particularly as it concerns medical cannabis, is “an intellectually lazy position that doesn’t even try to present medical facts as they currently exist.”

Davis sponsored a medical marijuana legalization bill that cleared the state Senate along largely bipartisan lines earlier this year, but it was killed in the House following a procedural challenge. He later tried another avenue for the reform proposal, but that similarly failed this session.

South Carolina voters support legalizing medical cannabis by a ratio of five to one, according to a poll released in February.

McMaster, for his part, has consistently opposed adult-use marijuana legalization, calling it “a bad idea” that isn’t “healthy” in 2017. And while the vast majority of his party is in consensus on allowing patients to access medical cannabis, the governor has been non-committal about past proposals, declining to endorse Davis’s bill earlier this year, for example.

He said his support or opposition would “depend on a lot of things” that he’d need to review if the legislation arrived on his desk.

Last week, Cunningham talked about how voters “are ready for a new generation of leadership. They are ready for values that match their own, so we are excited about that.”

“We are not going to raise taxes, but we are going to explore new sources of revenue. We are going to legalize marijuana, legalize sports betting and we are going to take that revenue and pay our teachers more,” he said.

With majority support for legalization across party lines, some have been left scratching their heads this election cycle as certain candidates have taken hardline stances opposing reform despite the popularity of the issue.

That political disconnect has been especially apparent in Pennsylvania, where the race for governor and a key U.S. Senate seat has revealed serious ideological fissures on drug policy.

The two major party candidates vying to be Pennsylvania’s next governor are diametrically opposed on the issue of marijuana reform—with one backing legalization and the other insisting that it’s a “stupid idea” that has turned other states into “rat holes.”

As lawmakers in the state prepare for another session when legalization will inevitably be proposed yet again, voters will be making a key decision on whether they usher in an administration led by someone who’s hostile to reform with Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano or embraces cannabis policy reform with the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Voters in that state might have seen drug policy reform take the spotlight in the social media spectacle that’s become the U.S. Senate race between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) and TV health personality Dr. Oz.

Oz has lobbed attacks at Fetterman over his long record of supporting marijuana reform, and the Republican National Committee (RNC) has similarly seized on the issue, misleadingly casting the state official as a radical supporter of policies like legalizing heroin, for example.

All of this is despite the fact that, in 2020, Oz himself called marijuana “one of the most underused tools in America” and said that the country should “completely change our policy on marijuana.”

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