Cannabis was one of many points of contention during the final South Carolina gubernatorial debate between the incumbent, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, and challenger Democrat James E. Smith, Jr.

If he was on the fence before, McMaster made it clear he will not support legislation like the Compassionate Care Act, a medical cannabis bill widely supported by voters according to multiple polls and a question on the S.C. Democrat’s primary ballot.

Smith is a co-sponsor the Compassionate Care Act.

The debate took place in Greenville on Thur., Oct. 25, and was televised by S.C. Educational Television (ETV) Charles Bierbauer hosted the debate. He is a former journalist and a professor and former Dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

However, it was Andy Shain, a reporter with The Post and Courier, who asked the question about medical marijuana which was first directed to Smith. 

Skip to the end for a fact-check on the candidates statements.

Debate question on cannabis begins at about the 16:30-minute mark:

The debate aired on ETV, South Carolina Educational Television, on Oct. 25, 2018.

We’ve queued the above video to the cannabis question for you, though encourage you to hang out and watch the entire debate.

McMaster is ahead in the polls by 23 percent according to an Oct. 16 poll from Trafalgar Strategy Group

[Review constantly updated polling data for the S.C. gubernatorial race, and others, at]

McMaster also pointed out that, despite Smith advocating for veteran access to medical cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), veteran-support for medical marijuana is balanced with what he described as widespread support from South Carolina veterans for his re-election.

During McMaster’s response to the debate question on cannabis, and Smith’s statement, audience members can be heard voicing their displeasure with his answer. Conversely, at the end of Smith’s statement the crowd cheered.

Transcript of the exchange during the gubenatorial debate:

Shain: A 2016 Winthrop University poll found that 78 percent of South Carolinians feel medical marijuana should be legalized in the state. But efforts to legalize medical marijuana have largely failed in the statehouse. Should we legalize it?

Smith: Yes. I can tell you, in my experience; and this month — today — this month is PTSD Awareness Month. And it’s important that we all remember all of our veterans who have come back but are still having trouble getting home. And, I know, from talking to many of my fellow veterans, the impact that medical cannabis can have on their ability to get back to work and return to their homes. I’m a co-sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act. I belive the science is very clear. They are available in other states, and there are several folks within law enforcement that share my belief in this. Matter of fact, there are leaders within law enforcement now that have had sons and relatives and daughters who have had to go to other states to get access to this important medical resource. It’s a signifigant difference that Henry and I have, and I think if we want to move South Carolina foward we ought to make this resource available. I think of, also, the many that desperately need it, that have siezure disorders. I’ve talked to a mother whose child had a thousand siezures a day and could only get relief through medical cannabis. I support it and I will make sure I do everything I can to support the people of our state in making that resource available. 

Who are the candidates?

McMaster ascended to the governor’s office when then-Gov. Nikki Haley was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Jan. 2017. McMaster served in the U.S. Army Reserves and is a long-time South Carolina politician. Visit his campaign website for more.

Smith is an officer in the U.S. Army National Guard, a combat veteran, having served in Afghanistan, a lawyer and currently a legislator in the S.C. General Assembly’s House of Representatives representing Richmond County. He was elected to the SCGA in 1996. Visit his campaign website for more.

Both men are lawyers from Columbia, the state’s capital.

[Read: S.C. to legalize medical cannabis in 2019?]

McMaster: Just a few days ago the chairman of the South Carolina Medical Association, Dr. March Seabrook, wrote an opinion piece in the newspaper saying that ‘medical marijuana there is no such thing’, that it has not been studied — that’s why the FDA has not approved it, that’s why it’s illegal nationally. And it is the opinion, the consistent opinion, of law enforcement that it would be a detriment to society, to law enforcement, to open the door to that. Now, when law enforcement is satisfied that it can be controlled, then that’s a different story. But until that time, and until medical science catches up with it, we would be entering very dangerous territory. But, I tell you, I do appreciate what the veterans have done. I enjoyed my time in the U.S. Army Reserves, and I’m delighted to have the endorsement of Adjutant General, Gen. Livingston, and also our Medal of Honor winner, Gen. James Livingston — major general, Marine general — over in Charleston. I’m glad to have the support of them and a huge cadre of veterans in South Carolina.

Gubernatorial Debate Fact Checks:


  • June, not October, is PTSD Awareness Month, so Smith got that one wrong.
  • Smith referred to PTSD as veterans “still having trouble getting home.” That may sound poetic, but it’s not accurate. The National Center for PTSD, a division of U.S. Veterans Affairs, offers a more nuanced definition of the complex disorder. It’s also worth noting that a person doesn’t have to be a veteran to be diagnosed with PTSD.
  • According to the Veterans for Cannabis non-profit, 82 percent of U.S. veterans support the legalization of medical marijuana.
  • Smith is indeed a co-sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act, which you can read here.
  • Smith said he believes “the science is very clear.” A more correct statement would be to say it’s becoming more clear. While there is quite a lot of cannabis science available, scientists continue to push the federal government for more legal access to cannabis so that additional research can be done.
  • Medical cannabis is indeed legally available in 31 other states.
  • It is true there are plenty of law enforcement officers that approve of legalization — in 2017, a Pew Research Center survey found that two-thirds of the 8,000 cops surveyed believe cannabis should be legal for medical or recreational use.
  • It is true that people travel to legal states for cannabis. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration says that’s a no-no when flying, though the Las Angeles International Airport has recently relaxed its rules and now allows marijuana in carryon bags. There are dozens of online articles offering tips for traveling with cannabis. The more important thing to take from this is that Carolina residents are spending money on cannabis, but other states are collecting the tax revenue.
  • It is true that many in South Carolina already rely on medical cannabis for their health conditions. Learn more from the S.C. Compassionate Care Alliance.
  • It sounds like Smith has talked to the two mothers who also talked to Carolina Cannabis News about their children’s life-or-death need for cannabis: Janel Ralph, of Palmetto Harmony, and Jill Swing, of the S.C. Compassionate Care Alliance.


  • It may be the consistent opinion of South Carolina law enforcement and U.S. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top cop, that cannabis shouldn’t be legalized, but that’s not the national concensus. For example, according to it’s website, “The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, formerly Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, is a U.S.-based 501 nonprofit group of current and former police, judges, prosecutors, and other criminal justice professionals who use their expertise to advance drug policy and criminal justice solutions that enhance public safety.” In sum: Cops are also pushing for legalization.
  • McMaster mischaracterized Dr. March Seabrook’s letter-to-the-editor that was published on Oct. 16, 2018, in The Post and Courier. In the letter, Seabrook complains that there is not enough scientific data supporting medical claims regarding cannabis due to the federal prohibition on the plant, therefore it is unreasonable to expect medical professionals to make an informed opinion. He states “It is more reasonable to ask the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] FDA and other entities to explore the possible medical benefits of the components and derivatives of marijuana. But absent these scientific studies, it is inappropriate to ask physicians to make medical determiniations about a substance that does not meet those criteria.” (As things go, the FDA is accepting public comments on cannabis through Oct. 31.)
  • The fact that the FDA hasn’t approved of marijuana is not why it’s banned federally. The truth is that cannabis prohibition is deeply rooted in racism and Pres. Richard Nixon’s push back against the anti-war, anti-establishment counter culture in the 1960s and 70s. “Part of Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, the Controlled Substances Act placed cannabis into Schedule 1, along with heroin and LSD, more due to Nixon’s animus toward the counterculture with which he associated marijuana than scientific, medical, or legal opinion,” Time magazine reported in a 2016 article titled “A Brief History of Marijuana Law in America.” “Indeed,” the article continued, “in 1972 the Shafer Commission, an investigative body appointed by Nixon, recommended that marijuana be decriminalized and thus removed from Schedule 1. Nixon vehemently rejected the Commission’s report.”
  • While there is a lot of cannabis science available, it is true that scientists, policy makers and advocates alike are all pushing for more legal access so they can conduct more research.
  • McMaster called legalizing cannabis “dangerous territory.” According to a study released by the University of Washington in July 2018, “Researchers have found that marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington has not hurt police effectiveness. In fact, clearance rates for certain crimes have improved.”
  • It is true that Maj. Gen. Livingston and Gen. Livingston, as part of a group of 50 veterans, endorse McMaster in this campaign.

Article: Late money surge puts McMaster ahead of Smith in most expensive S.C. governor’s race ever BY Andy Shain. Read it here.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster

S.C. state Rep. James E. Smith, Jr.

BY Rhiannon Fionn

BY Rhiannon Fionn

Editor & Publisher

Rhiannon Fionn is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C.

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