A bill that would allow children with severe epilepsy to use an oil extracted from marijuana to help control their seizures has been passed by the General Assembly.
The legislation, which would legalize cannabidiol oil for certain medical conditions, passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday and the House by a 92-5 vote Thursday.
Gov. Nikki Haley has five days to sign or veto the bill. If she does neither, it automatically becomes law. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who wrote the original Senate bill, said the bill will likely be ratified next Tuesday or Wednesday and sent to the governor.
The bill would decriminalize the oil in South Carolina and allow physicians to prescribe it to children like 6-year-old Mary Louise Swing, who has severe epilepsy and inspired Davis' bill. CBD oil would also be offered through clinical trials set up by the Medical University of South Carolina.
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Davis said he did not expect opposition from Haley because her staff has not expressed concerns about the bill so far. Attempts Thursday to reach Doug Mayer, Haley's spokesman, were unsuccessful.
Jill Swing, mother of Mary Louise, said she recently met with members of Haley's staff to discuss the bill.
"I told them in no way does this bill support full, recreational marijuana," the Mount Pleasant resident said. "I explained that the oil really is not marijuana, and they told me they felt sure (Haley) did understand that."
Mary Louise has intractable epilepsy, suffering as many as 200 seizures an hour. Even with the two medications she takes, she still suffers between 20 and 60 seizures an hour. Swing and her mother-in-law, Beaufort resident Harriett Hilton, attended the House vote Thursday with Davis.
Educating legislators on the effects of the oil was one of the key tasks for Swing, Davis, and the two representatives -- Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, and Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort -- who helped move the bill through the House. Swing said several House members who had previously opposed the bill voted in favor of it Thursday.
The bill would also set up a committee to study the feasibility of growing the marijuana strains from which CBD oil is extracted in South Carolina. Those strains are high in CBD content but low in THC, the component of marijuana that has psychoactive properties.
However, that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reclassify CBD oil, which is still deemed a controlled substance -- something Swing said she also hopes to help change. Davis said growing those strains and cultivating other medicines could be an economic opportunity for the state.
"This bill was important, but only a first step," he said. "I want South Carolina to become a leader in alternative medicines. South Carolina has always been a great agricultural state, and this could be a huge economic opportunity for our farmers."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.