South Carolina Democrats gave medical marijuana a landslide victory Tuesday, with 82 percent declaring in an advisory vote that doctors should be allowed to prescribe the drug.
The question “Do you support passing a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?” was approved by Democrats in all of the state's 46 counties during Tuesday's primary.
The nonbinding ballot initiative is the latest boost for legalized medical marijuana, which has been embraced by key committees in both the S.C. House and Senate.
"We had a lot of wins on Tuesday," said Janel Ralph of Conway, executive director of the Compassionate South Carolina patient advocacy group.
Ralph noted that state Rep. James Smith of Columbia, co-sponsor of a S.C. House bill allowing medical marijuana, won the Democratic nomination for governor. And John Warren, an Upstate Republican who supports the measure, earned a runoff with Gov. Henry McMaster.
Both Smith and Warren are military combat veterans who support medical marijuana in part as a means for treating veterans suffering from PTSD and other maladies.
Also on Tuesday, a key U.S. Senate subcommittee moved to include protections for state marijuana laws in a funding bill for the Justice Department.
In South Carolina's three largest counties, the measure passed overwhelmingly.
Voters in Richland County approved the question 85 percent to 15 percent; in Charleston County, 88 percent to 12 percent; and in Greenville County, 89 percent to 11 percent.
Bill Nettles, appointed by then-President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. attorney from 2010 to 2016, requested both the S.C. Republican Party and S.C. Democratic Party include the advisory ballot on their primary ballots.
He said he was not surprised by the outcome.
"The electorate is way out in front of the elected officials on this issue," he said.
The ballot initiative puts more pressure on the General Assembly to legalize medical marijuana.
In a question asked exclusively for The State newspaper in 2016, a Winthrop University poll showed nearly 4 in 5 S.C. residents — or 78 percent — supported legalizing medical marijuana. Meanwhile, only 39 percent of South Carolinians said they support legalizing pot for recreational use, a move opposed by 54 percent of those surveyed.
And a January statewide Mason-Dixon poll found that South Carolina voters support legalizing medical marijuana 61 percent to 31.
Legislative committees in both houses this year passed nearly identical "compassionate care" bills, but the bills were not debated in the full House or Senate before the end of the session.
All of this, Ralph said, adds up to a strong case for legalization.
"This will be one of the top priorities in the State House next year," she said.
The Democratic ballot also included an advisory question on Medicare and Medicaid expansion. It passed 93 percent to 7 percent.
The Republican ballot included two advisory questions:
▪ Whether voters should have the right choose a party affiliation when they register to vote. It passed 82 percent to 18 percent.
▪ If the state tax code should mirror the federal tax code following passage of the Republican tax cuts. It passed 92 percent to 8 percent.