If they are willing to hammer out a compromise, state lawmakers still have a chance to pass legislation this year that could greatly improve ill South Carolinians' lives.
Both the House and Senate have passed versions of a bill put forth by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, allowing limited access to cannabidiol oil (CBD), a marijuana extract that many have found helps with epilepsy and other conditions. That may include Mary Louise Swing, a 6-year-old who lives in Mount Pleasant and suffers between 20 and 60 seizures an hour despite being on two medications.
The oil, extracted from marijuana plants and administered through a dropper, contains little to no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. So there is no high.
"It can be a miracle drug," said Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, the main sponsor of the House versiothe bill.
In late March, the Senate passed Davis' bill to create a research program for CBD oil to be used as an anti-seizure medication. MUSC would begin CBD oil clinical studies through the program. Only those participating in the trials would receive the drug.
But this version of the bill ran amuck when both the S.C. Medical Association and the State Law Enforcement Division, the state's top law enforcement agency, raised concerns about the purity of oils not controlled by the Food and Drug Administration.
And others, including Mary Louise's mother, worried the bill didn't go far enough. For instance, even if Mary Louise were fortunate enough to be accepted into a clinical trial, she might receive a placebo instead of the drug.
We agree that the Senate version of the bill is so restrictive, it could deny access to the very people it is intended to help.
A better version was overwhelmingly passed by the House earlier this month, allowing people certified by a doctor as suffering from severe epilepsy, or their parents, to go outside of the state to obtain the oil and legally bring it back into South Carolina.
That would ensure S.C. residents like Mary Louise would get the drug and that her caregivers would not run into legal trouble for obtaining it.
We applaud the House's 90-24 vote to pass the bill.
But now, the hard work begins.
Senators must either agree to the House version or come up with a compromise that a majority in both chambers can agree on. Otherwise, the bill is dead for this session, and South Carolinians are denied access to a potentially life-altering medicine.
Davis, working to get the bill into a version that can pass, said he's attempting to strike a balance between making it as expansive as possible (to increase patients' ability to get the oil) and narrow enough so that SLED, the medical association and others don't oppose it.
We hope that's possible, and that all stakeholders keep in mind the bill is about saving lives.
It's worth the effort to pass this year.