Majority of those surveyed view possession as a health issue, not a criminal offense
The survey results focused on the distinction between drugs as a criminal offense and as a health issue. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said that they favored treating drug use as a health issue and not arresting and imprisoning people for possession of a small amount of drugs. Fifty-nine percent agreed that people caught with small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use should be offered treatment but not sent to jail.
Significantly, the survey asked respondents for their opinions on possession of any illegal recreational drug. While the movement to legalize marijuana has gained significant traction in recent years, these results indicate that South Carolina residents favor going well beyond that single drug.
A strong majority of respondents (70 percent) also said they saw reducing the prison population in the United States as somewhat important or very important.
Current state laws impose strict penalties for drug offenders
Under current South Carolina laws, the most severely treated possession offenses involve possession of cocaine, meth or crack cocaine. A first offense of possession is considered a misdemeanor, with a sentence of up to three years in prison and $5,000 in fines. A second or later offense is considered a felony.
Possession of Schedule I and II narcotics follows a similar sentencing scale, although the prison sentences are somewhat shorter. Possession of marijuana remains a criminal offense in South Carolina, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $200.
If voters get their wish, South Carolina would not be the first state to move toward decriminalizing drug offenses. California became the first state to reduce simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor in 2014. Other states are considering similar or even more sweeping proposals.
For the moment, however, possession of drugs in South Carolina remains a crime, and one with serious penalties. In many cases, South Carolina residents are charged with drug possession even when the drugs are not on their person. Rather, the definition of possession under South Carolina law is having an illegal substance within your control; that is, either within reach or in an area over which you have control, such as your vehicle or closet.
It's quite common for people to be charged with possession of drugs that were not theirs, or for the police to conduct improper search and seizure procedures. That's why it's critically important to consult with experienced criminal defense attorney Matt Bodman and protect your legal rights.