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New poll shows most South Carolinians support medical marijuana

A new poll shows that a wide majority of South Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

The results from Benchmark Research shows that 72 percent of 400 South Carolinians polled support legalizing medical marijuana, including 84 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 63 percent of Republicans.

Geographically, medical marijuana had the strongest support in the Lowcountry, with 76 percent. The Midlands showed 71 percent support for legalization. And the Upstate and the Pee Dee registered 73 percent and 65 percent respectively.

“That’s a good, solid number,” medical marijuana supporter Bill Nettles, a Democrat who was appointed by then-President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. attorney from 2010 to 2016, said of the 72 percent statewide result.

“That’s what we’re seeing,” he said. “Government officials need to get out of the way of the will of the people.”

The poll, which has a 4.46 percent margin of error, is the latest boost for legalized medical marijuana, which has been embraced by key committees in both the S.C. House and Senate.

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.

A January statewide Mason-Dixon poll found that South Carolina voters support legalizing medical marijuana 61 percent to 31 percent

In June, South Carolina Democrats gave medical marijuana a landslide victory in a non-binding ballot resolution in their primary, 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 June’s primary.

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.

Former 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.

However, law enforcement officials, including SLED chief Mark Keel, opposed legalizing medical marijuana, saying it would lead to legalizing recreational use.

But Janel Ralph of Conway, executive director of the Compassionate South Carolina patient advocacy group, said the benchmarks that have been reached add up to a strong case for legalization.

“This is the third poll that shows that the people of South Carolina are in favor of medical marijuana,” she said. “Legislators are going to have to start looking at it seriously now.”

She added that a comprehensive “compassionate care” bill that would legalize the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana has a good chance of passing in the upcoming two-year legislative session.

“It’s just time,” she said.

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