It’s not necessarily the type of issue that school superintendents take up, but would-be state schools chief Sheila Gallagher says legalizing pot to pay for schools is among her top priorities.
Gallagher, who is running for the statewide position, says that current attitudes around cannabis are changing. People are going to use cannabis, she says, so why not tax it and put the money to good use: the state’s children.
“You see, when it comes to public schools, we all know what’s wrong, and some of us even know what’s right,” Gallagher told WYFF4. “It isn’t about getting high. It’s about investing $188 million every year until we have the best schools in the nation.”
She says taxes could go directly toward funding more teachers in the classroom, hiring better applicants, decreasing classroom size and making sure children have the books, computers and other supplies they need.
Compared to the rest of the country, South Carolina is ranked 39th in per-capita state expenditures for k-12 education and 36th in per-student funding, according to data from the National Education Association.
Gallagher has some public support, including House Labor Party candidate Harold Geddings, who commended Gallagher on her out-of-the-box thinking. “I think it is high time that somebody finally stands up and goes to bat for it,” he said.
But, as you can expect in South Carolina, the idea of a former teacher advocating for cannabis legalization has shocked some including Gallagher’s opposition, Montrio Belton – who clearly still is clinging to the War on Drugs mentality.
“I was shocked that that was coming from a public educator, and a former health and P.E. teacher,” Belton said. “I’m sure my opponent, who’s a former health and P.E. Teacher, would know that marijuana has been demonstrated to be a gateway drug.”
Except that marijuana has been demonstrated NOT to be a gateway drug.
Even House Democrats took a stand against Gallagher’s comments.
“House Democrats are committed to making medical marijuana accessible to the patients in South Carolina who need it the most,” said Tyler Jones, spokesman for the house Democrats. “Perhaps the comments today were intended to grab newspaper headlines instead of being seen as a serious policy proposal. Needless to say they send the wrong message to young people in South Carolina and will not be an idea seriously considered by the General Assembly any time soon.”
The reality is that Gallagher wouldn’t have much of a say in legalizing marijuana for educational purposes. In fact, neither will the general public as South Carolina law doesn’t allow for statewide citizen ballot initiatives. In fact, according to state law even the state legislature doesn’t have the authority to put statutes on the ballot. Any legalization would have to come from the state legislature itself – and they can’t even get medical marijuana laws passed.
But Gallagher’s approach is nevertheless commendable for getting the conversation started.