COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — Support for the legalization of medical cannabis has slowly ticked upward over the last decade, according to multiple polls.

A 2016 Winthrop Poll found that 78% of South Carolinians supported the legalization of medical cannabis, compared to the organization’s 2014 poll, which had support at 72%.

A 2018 Benchmark Research poll also showed 72% of South Carolinians supported legalizing medical cannabis, with 63% of Republicans in favor. 

Those polls mirror what Jill Swing, the president and founder of the South Carolina Compassionate Care Alliance, has seen. While the topic has tended to be divided among party lines at the federal level — with Democrats typically supportive and Republicans against — she’s watched as opinions have changed in the politically-red state.

“The greatest increase in support has been Republicans who support it,” Swing said. 

She’s optimistic that backing will help medical cannabis be legalized this year. S.0150, also known as the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, remains in the South Carolina Senate Committee on Medical Affairs, as of Monday. 

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, with co-sponsors from both sides of the political aisle.

That sponsorship and support, Swing said, is crucial to getting a medical cannabis bill passed.

Swing said Republican lawmakers have historically been worried that introducing cannabis legislation would hurt their chances of re-election. That hasn’t been the case.

“In fact, they have been touted as heroes by stepping out and supporting medical cannabis legislation, where in the beginning, they were considered outliers,” she said. 

Swing attributes the continuing approval to grassroots advocacy, awareness and to patients reaching out to their political representatives to ask for their support.

Nationwide, about two-thirds of people support the legalization of cannabis, according to a 2019 poll from the Pew Research Center. In 2010, the center found that about half of Americans supported legalization measures. 

Of those who answered the 2019 poll, 91% of people said it should be legal for either medical and recreational use, 59% said it should be legal for recreational use and 32% said it should be legal for just medical use.

Swing said that passing a bill for adult recreational use instead of passing one for — or in addition to — one for medical use could have unintended consequences, which would include preventing youth from accessing treatment and placing high taxes on the purchase of cannabis, whether or not it’s intended to be used recreationally or medically.

“When you are speaking about a strictly-medical program, you don’t want funding for roads to be carried on the backs of clinically-ill patients,” she said.