COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A former U.S. Attorney for the Obama Administration is pressing Democratic and Republican leaders to place a non-binding ballot question to voters to gauge their opinion on legalizing medical marijuana.
Bill Nettles, who was South Carolina's U.S Attorney from 2009 to 2016 and is now a leader of a pro-medical cannabis group, wrote a letter to South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson and South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick asking them to place that ballot question to voters in the June primary.
"A non-binding vote by Democratic and Republican voters would give policymakers the guidance they need during future debates on this issue," Nettles wrote. "As importantly, it will show your voters that you care about what they have to say."
"I think it is important that our state Democratic and Republican Parties allow primary voters to be heard on the important issue of legalization of medical marijuana for seriously ill patients in our state," Nettles said in a statement.
READ THE LETTER FROM BILL NETTLES
Nettles believes his experience as the former U.S. Attorney leads him to believe medical cannabis could wean people off of addictive and dangerous opioids and save lives.
"The question is, how many lives are going to get ruined before we do it," Nettles said.
However, a spokesperson for state Republicans said the deadline for submitting questions to their ballot was Thursday and they did not include a question on medical marijuana.
Democrats, meanwhile, appear to have placed the question on their ballots, according to Chris Whitmire with the South Carolina Election Commission.
"Do you support passing a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?" is one of three questions placed on Democrats' ballots for the June primary.
However, Democrats asked a similar question on medical marijuana in 2014. That year, state Democrats voted 75 percent in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
A bipartisan bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Brad Hutto and Republican Sen. Tom Davis, making its way through the South Carolina Senate would legalize cannabis for medical use.
The bill recently passed subcommittee on its way to the Senate floor. Lawmakers have until Tuesday to pass it, or the bill is dead and advocates would have to start from scratch.
But those in the law enforcement community have been skeptical and hesitant to support the bill for legalizing the drug as a medicine. Sheriff Lee Foster says he'd like to see more studies before legalization because it still isn't regulated as a medicine by the FDA.
"In my career, most of the time I've seen the progression from marijuana on up the categories of more stringent and dangerous drugs. I've seen it start with marijuana. So I don't know if that's the answer," Foster said.