Republican Rep. Mays’ Bill Federally Decriminalizes Marijuana

Republican Rep. Mays’ Bill Federally Decriminalizes Marijuana

Columbia, SC — Republican Representative Nancy Mays of South Carolina introduced legislation Monday to federally decriminalize marijuana, a measure she said would give states greater freedom to pass their laws and regulations without fear of federal retaliation.

The measure, which Mays said she hopes will win the support of the Republican Party, was immediately met with criticism from conservatives in her state, some of whom vowed to oppose any effort toward legalization.

When announcing the bill during a press conference in Washington on Monday, Mays said half a dozen House Republicans would be original sponsors of the bill, which she said aims to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol and ban its use by anyone under 21. years old.

The measure would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, a drawback that has been cited in many states that have chosen not to pursue legalization on their own. But it won’t change restrictions at the local level, which means states will still set their own marijuana laws.


“It protects the laws and reforms that are unique to each state,” Mays said. “It takes into account at the federal level that every state is different.”

US support for the legalization of marijuana has grown, confirming a national shift as more states have embraced cannabis for medicinal or recreational use. According to a Gallup survey earlier this year, more than two out of three Americans supported legalizing marijuana, maintaining a record set the year before.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states and four territories allow medical cannabis use, while 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia allow non-medical use of adults.

But in South Carolina, where lawmakers have passed a single marijuana law allowing prescriptions for products containing CBD — a cannabis ingredient that doesn’t cause a “high” — Mace drew swift criticism from some conservatives over her proposal.


Calling marijuana “the number one drug of the explosive opioid crisis plaguing our state,” Dave Wilson, president of Palmetto Family, a conservative Christian lobby, warned in a statement that efforts to decriminalize marijuana “will make this crisis exponentially worse.”

Reclaiming Mays’ first district was among the priorities of South Carolina Republicans in 2020, with GOP Chairman Drew McCussick appearing alongside Mays the day after US Representative Joe Cunningham was defeated.

But on Monday, McKissick quickly issued a statement reprimanding the Mace bill, not referring to it by name but saying that the state’s Republican Party opposes “any effort to legalize and decriminalize the use of controlled substances, and that includes this law.”

In his own campaign for the governor of South Carolina, Cunningham has already made a marijuana legalization proposal of his own.


Mays’ proposal has won support from some groups, such as the South Carolina arm of Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, who have hailed the effort as a “step in the right direction” for the leeway it would give states a better definition. Policies for the administration of cannabis in their states.

The measure would address the regulation of marijuana into three silos, giving the USDA powers over growers, while the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would oversee the cannabis industry. Mays said medical marijuana would be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, adding that it would suggest the drug be regulated similarly to alcohol.

It will also impose a 3% federal selective tax on all cannabis products, the proceeds of which will go to small businesses, law enforcement retraining and mental health services, among other services. This measure would also eliminate non-violent crimes related to cannabis only.



Meg Kinnard can be reached at

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