The South Carolina Republican party is coming out against a marijuana legalization bill that was introduced on Monday by a GOP congresswoman who represents the state.

Shortly after Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) held a press conference formally unveiling the legislation, South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick issued a statement affirming that the organization opposes “any” effort to end prohibition and making clear that the congresswoman’s bill is no exception.

“Our Party platform is clear: ‘We support firm enforcement of existing laws against the abuse and distribution of controlled substances, and we oppose any effort to legalize the use of controlled substances,’ and that includes marijuana,” McKissick said.

“We’ve seen Democrats across the country, even here at home with Joe Cunningham and Mia McLeod, campaign on legalizing weed against the wishes of law enforcement,” he added, referring to gubernatorial candidates of the other party. “Even just today Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke announced in his campaign video for governor that he wants to legalize marijuana.”

“Unequivocally, the South Carolina Republican Party is against any effort to legalize, decriminalize the use of controlled substances, and that includes this bill,” the statement concludes. “Since this will have widespread negative impacts, from rising crime, violence, and mental health issues in children, I think it’s a safe bet to say most Republicans will be against it too.”

Already, however, Mace said that she already has a handful of GOP cosponsors on Capitol Hill. And she stressed on Monday that her office is “getting a lot of great feedback from Republicans and Democrats on this bill.”

“My main goal is to get as much Republican support as I can initially, and we’re hearing great feedback from both chambers, both sides of the aisle on this piece of legislation,” the congresswoman said.

Advocates and industry stakeholders are encouraged by Mace’s States Reform Act, which would federally deschedule cannabis, let states decide their own policies and also promote equity in part by providing opportunities to expunge non-violent marijuana convictions.

The hope is that the legislation will help facilitate bipartisan negotiations as Democrats in both chambers work to advance separate, broader legalization proposals.

But evidently, Mace should not expect the South Carolina legislature’s GOP party to have her back, despite having previously served in the state House before being elected to Congress.

The congresswoman mentioned at Monday’s presser that South Carolina has a limited CBD program but has yet to enact a comprehensive medical cannabis program, let alone advance adult-use legislation. She emphasized that her bill would not impose legalization on any given state, but rather leave the choice up to them.

Some Republicans in Congress have led, or joined their Democratic colleagues, on other marijuana bills, but they’ve generally been far more scaled back measures—simply protecting states that choose to legalize or descheduling cannabis without touching social equity issues or creating a federal tax on sales.

In any case, polling shows that the public is ready for an end to prohibition. Sixty-eight percent of U.S. adults said they back legalizing cannabis in a Gallup poll released this month—and that includes majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Surveys also show majority support for reform among South Carolina voters specifically. A poll released in February found that residents support legalizing medical marijuana by a ratio of five to one. But the state does not have a citizen-led initiative process that has empowered voters in other states to get the policy change enacted.

Support for medical marijuana among South Carolina residents has been notably stable, as a 2018 Benchmark Research poll similarly found 72 percent support for the reform, including nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Republicans.

Also that year, 82 percent of voters in the state’s Democratic primary election voted in favor of medical cannabis legalization in a nonbinding ballot advisory vote. Lawmakers prefiled four marijuana measures for the 2019 session, but they did not advance.

State Sen. Tom Davis (R) said earlier this year that his own party’s stance, particularly as it concerns a medical cannabis bill he is sponsoring, is “an intellectually lazy position that doesn’t even try to present medical facts as they currently exist.”

Davis previously said that if the legislature doesn’t advance reform, he’d propose a bill to put the question of medical marijuana legalization to voters through a referendum.

The senator said in May that he’s received assurances from a top Senate leader that his medical cannabis measure will be taken up as the first order of business at the beginning of next year.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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