Rutherford: Voters in June's Democratic primary can weigh in on medical marijuana

Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, announced Wednesday that voters in the June Democratic primary will get to weigh in on the legalization of medical marijuana.

COLUMBIA - South Carolina voters who cast ballots in June's Democratic primary will see a question about whether medical marijuana should be legalized.

Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, the House minority leader, announced Wednesday that the ballot question will allow voters to weigh in on the issue. Such ballot referendums are not legally binding, but Rutherford hopes it will help build momentum in the state and Legislature for future efforts to legalize marijuana.

The announcement came at a press conference where Rutherford introduced several people who are suffering from diseases or physical ailments. Marijuana offers hope, they said, and is sometimes the only option when pharmaceuticals and surgery fail.

The Senate last month passed a bill allowing for a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina or another epilepsy center for a drug that uses a marijuana extract called cannabidiol oil. The S.C. House has passed a similar bill, with one notable exception: it allows for patients who qualify to possess cannabidiol oil (CBD), a marijuana extract that many have found helps with epilepsy and other conditions.

That is a broader measure than the Senate version and comes over the objection of state police, lawmakers have said. But family of epilepsy patients have said they worry that it would be difficult to access a clinical trial, even if one came to MUSC.

Lawmakers hope to rectify the difference between the two bills before the end of the legislative session in June.

The advisory question is among five being asked on the Republican and Democratic ballots June 10. Two others on the Democratic ballot deal with gambling.

Republican voters will be asked about abortion and eliminating the state income tax.

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How voters respond to primary questions do not necessarily translate to legislative action. But they are traditionally a way to get voters to the polls.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.