Democratic primary voters in South Carolina have overwhelmingly voted in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
The advisory ballot measure, which is not binding and does not change any laws, was sailing to passage Tuesday night by an 81% to 19% margin, with more than 93% of precincts reporting.
“Do you support passing a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?”
The strong support for the question adds to growing pressure on state lawmakers to change the law to allow people to use cannabis in accordance with physician recommendations without fear of being arrested.
Its passage comes on the same day that a key U.S. Senate subcommittee moved for the first time ever to include protections for state medical marijuana laws in base Justice Department funding legislation.
South Carolina House and Senate committees approved medical cannabis legislation this year, but the bills never advanced to votes on the floor of either chamber.
Former U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles reportedly pushed both major parties to place the cannabis question on their primary ballots, but only Democrats agreed.
Advocates hope that passage of the measure will embolden lawmakers to further advance medical marijuana bills next session, though the fact that it only appeared on the Democratic ballot — and not that of Republicans, who control the legislature and the governor’s mansion — means that it may be of limited value.
But public support for allowing patients to use medical cannabis is strong. A statewide poll released in January, for example, found that South Carolina voters support legalizing the drug, 61% to 31%.
Additionally, the state has open primaries in which a voter can choose either party’s ballot during elections, meaning that not everyone who went to the polls and voted on the Democratic medical marijuana question was necessarily a Democrat.
Of note, several thousand more people voted on the medical cannabis measure than selected a candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on the same ballot.
Twenty-nine other states currently give patients comprehensive access to medical marijuana. Another 17, including South Carolina, have more limited medical cannabis programs that only allow non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts, while nine states allow recreational use of marijuana by adults over 21.
Oklahoma voters will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana during their primary election later this month.
In November, Missouri and Utah voters are expected to see binding medical cannabis measures on their ballots, and Michigan will consider an initiative to fully legalize marijuana for adults over the age of 21.
Polls indicate that all of the measures are poised to pass.