Republicans should lead marijuana reform: An interview with Nancy Mace
By Charleston Mercury Staff
Congresswoman Mace and supporters in front of the Capitol for the official SRA press conference Nov. 15, 2021. Image provided.
In November of 2021 Congresswoman Mace introduced the States Reform Act with the goal of decriminalizing marijuana federally and removing it from its status as a schedule one drug. Despite the fact that marijuana reform was part of Mace’s campaign platform and that a number of Republican politicians are in favor of decriminalization and legalization of medical marijuana, she has received a fair amount of criticism from her own party concerning this bill. But as 70 percent of Americans are in favor of decriminalization and 90 percent are in favor of legalization of medical marijuana, we thought it worthwhile to sit down with the congresswoman and talk to her about why she chose to sponsor this bill, what it actually proposes and what that means for our state in particular. What she has to say may surprise you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Charleston Mercury: There is a misunderstanding that the States Reform Act would impact South Carolina’s approach to marijuana legalization. In reality this is a federal decriminalization bill that would allow marijuana to be regulated only at the federal level. What would this actually mean in terms of how S.C. handles marijuana use?
Nancy Mace: This bill would not change how S.C. approaches cannabis reform. The beauty of the States Reform Act is that it respects the rights of states to decide what level of cannabis reform or not they want to have. There’s an element of federalism in here. In our state, we have CBD and hemp. Florida has approved medical cannabis. Then states like California and Colorado have approved for adult recreational use. This bill takes cannabis off the schedule one status so we can study it. It will not make it legal for everybody to use it. If you don’t like cannabis reform, you don’t have to do it. If you do, we are legalizing what you are already doing. These businesses would be handled like a company distributing alcohol.
The only place this is controversial is in D.C. — it’s a 70-30 [in favor] issue across our state; nationally it’s even higher than that. In our district there’s overwhelming support. Reform in S.C. has been led by Republicans — and Republicans from the Lowcountry. There was a hearing led by Tom Davis about the Compassionate Care Act [in favor of legalizing medical marijuana in S.C.], and there are multiple Republican S.C. House members who are sponsors of that bill. The Lowcountry is leading on these issues on both a state local and national level.
CM: This bill enumerates a surprising number of conservative values such as generation of tax revenue, benefits to veterans and personal autonomy (especially in light of recent attempts at vaccine mandates; also think consumption of alcohol and tobacco products). Can you talk about why there is so much conservative support not only nationally but statewide?
NM: Republicans are the champions of freedom, liberty and states’ rights. This bill champions those values. If you want this done responsibly, you have to have Republicans at the table guiding with a common sense perspective. This bill has been endorsed by law enforcement and veterans groups, and it makes legal what is already happening across the country.
Over time it would also bring money in when the industry becomes much larger. The three percent excise tax would have to remain relatively low because you don’t want to create or further exacerbate black markets. If you look at what states have done that has not gone well, the states with the highest taxes have the most problems.
This is good for farmers large and small. It’s an industry that needs to be tapped into better, and the SRA provides a framework to do that.
One of the reasons I believe that many people, not only in the Lowcountry but across our state and across the country, have such grievances with the government is because of the lack of common sense reforms that do good for the people. We are not working together, and it is incumbent upon us to find ways to work together. I’ve been big on animal rights this year; it’s a place I’ve been able to work on both sides. Cannabis reform has been a bipartisan effort.
I just got back from the Indo-Pacific region where I was the only Republican on this historic trip to Taiwan, Korea and Japan. Because I was on that trip it made it bipartisan and we were able to get meetings with the president of Taiwan and others. I want to be part of the solution. While the rest of the country is arguing about minor things, you’ve got Russia and China out there getting ready to eat our lunch. And if we don’t work together, we’re going to be even weaker on the world stage and more vulnerable than ever. When America is strong, the rest of the world is strong. We work together and we stop using performative art as politics. It should be about getting things done that are good for the American people. This decriminalization bill does that.
Chairman of the HVAC committee Rep. Takano, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Rep. Colin Allred, Rep. Sara Jacobs and Rep. Mace. Image provided.
CM: Joe Cunningham has made marijuana reform a big part of his gubernatorial platform. Do you think this issue is important enough in S.C. that it will give Democrats a competitive advantage unless Republicans take it seriously?
NM: Medical cannabis is enormously popular in right red S.C. We’re talking 70 percent of the population supports medical cannabis. I ran on this issue and said I would be supportive of decriminalization, so this should not be surprising to anybody. There have been proposed bills Republicans could never support, and bills Democrats could never support. Somewhere in the middle there is this sandbox where we can all be part of a bill to make it happen. This bill protects children — there are incentives in there to make sure it only decriminalizes for over the age of 21; there’s funding in there for education; it prohibits marketing and advertising to minors. I tried to be very thoughtful about how I went about putting this bill together.
My district also is home to Jamal Sutherland’s family and so mental health, criminal justice reform, civil rights issues, those are all things I’ve been working on as a state lawmaker and now member of Congress. During my congressional campaign I had a prison reform bill signed into law by Gov. McMaster. I’ve been working on these issues for a long time. Our district, District 1, is ground zero for many of these issues and causes and rights I’m passionate about. I’m also the ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Civil Rights, which is on the oversight committee, and I’m the only freshman Republican who has her own committee. The committee is currently chaired by Jamie Raskin, constitutional attorney and professor, that’s who I’m working with on a regular basis on that committee. When Republicans get in the majority I would then rise to be chairman of that committee. It’s past time that Republicans lead on these issues.
It’s unpopular to work in a bipartisan way today, and that makes me sad. It was Reagan who said it’s our duty to reach across the aisle. I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to do good things for the Lowcountry, for S.C. and for our nation.
CM: You have stated that you hope S.C. will also agree to legalize medical marijuana due to its proven benefits for veterans in terms of pain and PTSD management. Can you talk about some of these benefits and why a vote for medical marijuana is a vote for veterans?
NM: The science has shown that opioid addiction and deaths go down when medical cannabis is available. This is one of the reasons I championed the protections for medical cannabis for veterans in the bill. Those with PTSD would be protected, but in the same breath, so would those with sickle cell.
Then on the financial side, there’s this very low three percent excise tax. There’s money that would go to law enforcement and to states with an opioid crises, but there’s money that would also go to veterans and helping to understand and study PTSD. The rate of suicide among our veterans is so high right now. This is the very least we can do.
CM: Let’s address the elephant in the room: “Marijuana” is a bad word to a lot of people, and the idea that it should be decriminalized or legalized seems crazy. In light of that, what’s the inspiration — the big positive — behind your sponsoring this bill?
NM: As a result of the trauma I had when I was 16 when I was raped, I got into a really dark place; I had no light at the end of the tunnel. I was prescribed antidepressants at the time and those antidepressants made my feelings of depression worse. I stopped taking them, and I started doing cannabis. It cut my anxiety without making me want to kill myself. So it’s something I’ve been passionate about my entire life. To see the way folks are discriminated against when there appears to be real medical value — we can’t even study cannabis for medical research the way that we should because it’s a schedule one drug, and we’re so far behind the ball on this thing. When I talk to veterans who have PTSD, I can feel that pain; I’ve been there, I’ve had those same very similar feelings. It’s past time to do it, and I want to provide commonsense, simple solutions to very complicated problems.
Alston Middleton and others assemble to listen to Nancy Mace offer a few words before lunch at the Middleton Hunting Club’s closing day of deer season. Image by Charleston Mercury Staff.
CM: Do you anticipate this bill passing?
NM: We’re working through cosponsors now. I aim to get a few more Republicans on and then we’ll open it up to Democrats so it’ll be bipartisan, and you’ll see it get some traction after the first of the year. We only have one year left in this congressional session to get anything done, and we couldn’t even get the Senate to do safe banking this year, so it’s hard to say what’s going to happen. This is really the only game in town, so if cannabis is going to get done this session, this is the bill to do it.
CM: Why do we want people who have been arrested for nonviolent marijuana possession out from behind bars?
NM: This is safe and conservative decriminalization. We’re only talking about releasing nonviolent cannabis folks who should not be in prison, not DUIs, not cartel members. There have been bills that want to free violent offenders, and that’s not what we want to have happen.
The federal government will save $6 million a year by releasing these offenders, and our law enforcement at the federal level has much bigger fish to fry instead of spending time and wasting resources on things that are not having an impact on the war on drugs. Criminalizing marijuana has had zero impact on the war on drugs.
This was also an issue that former president Trump supported. He pardoned 12 people who were nonviolent cannabis offenders, and he wanted a reconciliation between federal and state law. This law does that.
CM: Is there anything else you think would help us understand this bill?
NM: The big takeaway is this doesn’t change anything for S.C. This doesn’t make S.C. cannabis friendly; it allows S.C. to continue doing CBD and hemp, and doesn’t force it to do anything. But where it is legal at whatever level, the government will tax and regulate it and get out of the way. That’s a benefit to everybody.
For more information, including a one-page brief that highlights the facts about the States Reform Act, visit https://mace.house.gov/sra.