With Virginia being the first adult cannabis domino to fall in the south, the race is now beginning between neighboring states to follow suit and end the ban. South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham is hoping his state is next.

The former one-year-old Democratic congressman, who represented South Carolina’s 1st coastal district in the US House of Representatives from 2019 to 2021, narrowly lost his re-election offer to Republican representative Nancy Mace, 50.6% to 49.4% in the November election.

During his two years in Washington, DC, Cunningham was the second most likely candidate for bipartisan bills compared to other House Democrats and the fifth most popular when compared to House Democrats, according to GovTrack.us.

Cunningham, 39, is now seeking his party’s nomination to challenge Republican governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, 74, in the November 2022 election.

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South Carolina Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham presented his proposal to end the cannabis ban in a July 12 press conference.

While Cunningham announced his candidacy for governor in April and has since announced his support for cannabis legalization, he officially announced his plan to end the state’s cannabis ban during a July 12 press conference in Charleston. This plan calls for the full legalization of medical and adult cannabis for adults aged 21 and over, as well as the lifting of convictions related to cannabis.

“There are tons of reasons to offer our citizens a safe and legal marijuana option,” said Cunningham. “Legalizing marijuana would free our law enforcement agencies to focus on more serious crimes and more effectively fight our state’s record homicide rate. It would be a turning point for people in South Carolina with debilitating health conditions. And it would generate tens of millions in tax revenue to finally provide critical funds for our state. ”

According to data from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, murders in the state rose nearly 25%, from 457 in 2019 to 571 in 2020. The 571 murders represent the highest annual total since the statistics began recording in 1960, CBS partner WLTX reports.

Cunningham said his cannabis plan, in addition to legalization and deletion, aims to increase revenue through responsible regulation and create jobs to give South Carolina farmers a boost.

Cunningham also claimed McMaster failed to be honest about cannabis and its benefits.

“People are no longer divided on this issue,” said Cunningham. “It’s the politicians who didn’t come around. Politicians like Henry McMaster, who have spent their entire career upholding the myths about marijuana, scaring people that it is more dangerous than it is, and most importantly, keeping it away from the people who need it most. I think it’s time to tell the truth. Be honest. This governor could be in the past, but I am not. “

In response to the legalization proposal, South Carolina GOP chairman Drew McKissick said that Cunningham was playing stupid games.

“We’ve seen the problems marijuana legalization has created in other states like Colorado,” McKissick said in a press release. “The rise in crime, the rise in health problems, especially suicidal ideation, and the negative effects on child development all got worse when the state decided to legalize marijuana.”

McKissick did not provide any data to support these claims. According to a study by the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank founded by the Charles Koch Foundation, violent crime “neither rose nor fell” in the wake of cannabis legalization. Koch is a well-known advocate for an end to the cannabis ban.

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“If you want to play stupid games, you win stupid prizes,” said McKissick. “And Democrats like Joe Cunningham keep wanting to play with fire.”

McKissick went on to say he and his Republican counterparts stand with state law enforcement agencies that cannabis should not be legalized and with doctors who believe medicine should be approved and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At least one South Carolina Republican disagreed with McKissick’s stance.

The SCGOP’s stance on medical cannabis is “an intellectually lazy position that doesn’t even attempt to present medical facts as they currently exist …” Senator Tom Davis said in a tweet.

As incumbent governor, McMaster previously voiced his opposition to legalizing adult cannabis and also failed to support medical cannabis legislation, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marihuana Laws (NORML).

McMaster took over the governorship of South Carolina on January 24, 2017 when former Gov. Nikki Haley resigned to serve as United Nations Ambassador to the United States during the Trump administration. McMaster, an early supporter of Donald Trump who gave the Trump nomination speech during the 2016 Republican National Convention, then won his election in 2018 to serve his first four-year term as governor of South Carolina.

Cunningham won South Carolina 1st District in the same election and claimed to be helping suburbs voters by showing his interest in local issues, particularly his opposition to offshore drilling. The first bill he tabled aimed to ban offshore drilling and seismic testing off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts – it went through the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate – the state reported.

While no Democrat has won the governorship of South Carolina since Jim Hodges’ 1999-2003 occupation, Cunningham’s ability to reach across party lines was a driving factor behind his 2018 US House win when he was the first candidate the one of the congressional seats from red to blue in more than a decade. Previously, in 1978, Mendel Jackson Davis was the last Democrat to win the 1st District.

Should Cunningham remove McMaster in 2022, legalizing cannabis would still be a difficult task in South Carolina, where Republicans currently hold 65% of the majority in both houses of the state legislature.