A bill that would allow children with severe epilepsy to use an oil extracted from marijuana to help control their seizures could be weeks away from becoming law.
The legislation, which would legalize cannabidiol oil for certain medical conditions, passed the S.C. House of Representatives by a 78-19 vote Wednesday and will return to the Senate. With no major hurdles remaining, the bill could be passed by the Senate next week and sent to Gov. Nikki Haley to sign into law, according to Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.
Davis, the author of the original Senate bill, said members of Haley's staff told him the governor wouldn't oppose the measure, pending a review of its final form. Attempts Wednesday to reach Doug Mayer, Haley's spokesman, were unsuccessful.
The bill would allow physicians to prescribe CBD oil to children with severe epilepsy, decriminalizing the oil in South Carolina. CBD oil would also be offered through clinical trials set up by the Medical University of South Carolina.
That would allow children like Mary Louise Swing, the 6-year-old Mount Pleasant resident who inspired Davis' bill, to receive the oil in South Carolina. Without treatment, Mary Louise can suffer as many as 200 seizures an hour because of her intractable epilepsy. She takes two medications, which limit her seizures to between 20 and 60 seizures an hour, her mother, Jill Swing, said.
Davis said he doesn't expect opposition to the bill, which passed the Senate in March by a unanimous vote.
Mary Louise's grandmother, Beaufort resident Harriett Hilton, drove to Columbia on Tuesday, but the bill was not voted on then. Expecting it to take another week to be heard, she was surprised by a text message from Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, that the bill had passed Wednesday. Hilton said she plans to be at the Statehouse next week for the Senate vote.
Another amendment added to the bill would set up a committee to study the feasibility of growing the marijuana strains that CBD oil is extracted from in South Carolina, Davis said. Those strains are high in CBD content but low in THC, the component of marijuana that has psychoactive properties. Davis introduced a similar amendment to the Senate's Medical Affairs Committee.
The CBD committee would be made up of designees from several state departments -- such as Agriculture, Health and Environmental Control, and the State Law Enforcement Division -- along with experts from Clemson University and MUSC to determine how the marijuana could be cultivated. The committee would report to the Medical Affairs Committee on March 15, 2015.
Davis said any in-state growing would be contingent upon the federal Food and Drug Administration reclassifying CBD oil. Marijuana and its byproducts currently are classified as controlled substances, and it is illegal to possess them.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.