- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The man widely regarded as the front-runner for South Carolina’s top federal prosecutor job is a Republican state representative who gave early support to Donald Trump’s campaign in this early voting state.

But Rep. Peter McCoy - whose name frequently circulates in legal circles as a likely top contender for the job, in part because of his Trump support - has introduced comprehensive medicinal cannabis legislation here, which appears to contradict his would-be boss’ statements on drug policy. U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions has made no secret of his plans to take a hard line on drugs, reminding reporters just weeks after being sworn in that marijuana distribution remains a federal crime, regardless of what states may do to legalize it.

In the weeks since, Sessions has said he’s reviewing Obama-era policies giving states flexibility in passing marijuana laws.

That stance, in contrast with Trump’s campaign trail comments that were softer on marijuana in particular, is going to be tested as the new administration begins to place federal prosecutors throughout the country, including some in states that have taken various steps toward legalizing the drug, either for medicinal purposes or recreational use.

It’s ultimately up to Trump to nominate U.S. attorneys, with input from the state’s U.S. senators. South Carolina’s top job has been filled by Beth Drake, a career federal prosecutor, since Obama appointee Bill Nettles left the post last summer to return to private practice.

Here’s a look at McCoy, as well as some of the others whose names have been mentioned as possible contenders for the top job in South Carolina:

PETER McCOY

McCoy, 38, has both prosecutorial and political credentials for the appointed position. As a Charleston-area prosecutor, McCoy says he took on hundreds of drug cases, ultimately leaving that post to pursue private practice - and elected office. He also backed Trump in his bid for South Carolina’s primary election, appearing at campaign events in the state’s coastal Lowcountry.

But McCoy, in his fourth term representing Charleston, is also a sponsor of a bill to legalize marijuana in South Carolina for medical use. When his infant daughter began suffering seizures known as infantile spasms, McCoy researched possible ways to relieve her discomfort and was led to research on medical cannabis.

That pursuit led to McCoy’s support of a 2014 bill to legalize cannabis oil, which can be used to treat severe epilepsy and other ailments.

None of that personal or policy relationship, McCoy says, would tint his service if tapped as South Carolina’s top federal prosecutor, particularly working under a boss who has been vocal in his doubts about any marijuana legalization.

“I have been consistent as a lawmaker and prosecutor being against the recreational use and/or abuse of any illegal substance,” McCoy told the AP, when asked both about the possibility of his nomination and his stance toward marijuana.

“I believe my position has been consistent with the president and his administration in regards to allowing states to decide treatment for medicinal purposes. If I am fortunate enough to be nominated and appointed United States Attorney, I will continue to uphold, follow, and enforce all state and federal laws.”

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use.

BRYAN STIRLING

Stirling, 47, is a longtime public servant, an attorney who now serves as director of South Carolina’s Department of Corrections. He previously worked in former Gov. Nikki Haley’s office and was a top deputy when Gov. Henry McMaster was the state’s attorney general.

Asked about the prosecutor position, Stirling told the AP he was focused on running the prisons agency.

ROBERT BOLCHOZ

Bolchoz, 53, is currently chief deputy under state Attorney General Alan Wilson and previously worked as a prosecutor in Charleston County. He vied with Wilson for the 2010 GOP nomination for the top prosecutor job and also previously sought a position on Columbia’s City Council.

“I really enjoy public service and am flattered to be under consideration for such an opportunity,” Bolchoz told the AP.

SHERRI LYDON

Lydon, 55, is a former prosecutor at the state and federal levels now private practice. As an assistant U.S. attorney, Lydon was among the lead prosecutors in Operation Lost Trust, a corruption probe that resulted in numerous convictions against South Carolina lawmakers and lobbyists. As an assistant attorney general, Lydon was chief of the State Grand Jury and also led the prosecution of executives from Carolina Investors and Home Gold, South Carolina’s largest securities fraud case.

If appointed, Lydon would be South Carolina’s first woman to serve as permanent U.S. attorney. She told the AP she was honored to be considered.

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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