The Yale-educated former aide to Rep. James Clyburn, Jaime Harrison, is challenging Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham for a US Senate seat in South Carolina. Harrison is a vocal supporter of cannabis legalization, and recently highlighted the disproportionate way that cannabis laws are enforced upon black communities. 

Harrison raised more than $13.9 million in funding from April through June, breaking fundraising records. After outraising Graham in the first and second quarters of funding, Harrison’s war chest of money gives him a slight edge in his bid for sear, despite running in the consistently conservative state of South Carolina.

Harrison, 44, served as chair for the South Carolina Democratic Party—and used his time in that role to push cannabis laws. His proven record in promoting fair cannabis laws could weigh in on voters’ minds this election despite the uphill road ahead.

“I think we should legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana like we do alcohol and tobacco,” Harrison told CNBC in an exclusive interview on July 14. “There is simply no medical reason to lock people up over this issue. In essence, this is about common sense. However, it’s also about criminal justice. We know that marijuana arrests, including those for simple possession, account for a large number of drug arrests.”

Harrison was quick to point out his reasoning behind his firm stance in favor of cannabis legalization, which centers around righting the wrongs of the “War on Drugs.”

“The racial disparities in marijuana enforcement—Black men and white men smoke marijuana the same rates, but black men are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession—is just unacceptable,” Harrison explained.

On Harrison’s last day serving as South Carolina Democratic Party chairman in 2017, the party approved a resolution endorsing a medical cannabis bill in the South Carolina legislature. 

He is one of the latest Democratic challengers to gain momentum in a highly volatile election year, with seemingly everything at stake.

The Deep South—dominated by strong Republican values—recently drew attention when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions lost his old seat at the Alabama GOP primary runoff to former football coach Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville will now face off against Democrat Doug Jones. Sessions held that seat for 12 years, only to be disgraced in the latest Alabama GOP primary following a rocky relationship with the president under the Trump administration.

Recent events have given hope to Democrats who hope to upseat long-standing Republicans in the South. While Lindsey Graham has retained his seat as senior United States Senator from South Carolina since 2003, this could be the year it all changes.

Lindsey Graham’s Mixed Record on Cannabis

Graham isn’t exactly cannabis’s biggest opponent; in fact, Graham warmed up to a handful of cannabis laws over the past four or so years. But the senator has repeatedly stated that he is not in favor of recreational cannabis or legalization at the federal level.

Like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Rep. Matt Gaetz, and others—Graham became an unlikely Republican ally to the cannabis and hemp communities in 2016 when he cosponsored the CARERS Act which would protect medical cannabis states from federal interference and reclassify the plant. Additionally, in 2017 he cosponsored a bill to remove CBD from the Controlled Substances.

But Graham voted against other cannabis bills such as the SAFE Banking Amendment. In 2016, Graham told POLITICO that he rejects recreational cannabis. NORML gave Graham a “C” grade when it comes to his general stance on cannabis laws.

Graham is also of course a fervent ally of President Donald Trump. While Graham criticized the president during the early 2016 campaign trail, he did a 180-degree turn and became one of Trump’s most loyal defenders.

Despite Graham holding his seat as senior Senator in South Carolina since 2003, Harrison, armed with his progressive stance on cannabis, could be the one to oust him once and for all.

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