GOP legislators in SC say it's time to give patients legal, controlled access to marijuana

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Republican legislators in conservative South Carolina expect to introduce bills next month allowing marijuana to be grown and prescribed for certain illnesses.

State Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Jenny Horne said Thursday lawmakers need to give patients access to the plant's healing properties in a highly-controlled, legal way. The two co-chairs of a medical marijuana study panel, which held hearings across the state last fall, plan to file identical bills in their chambers in the coming weeks.

One would provide better access to a non-psychoactive oil derived from marijuana.

Last year, the Legislature approved letting people who suffer from severe epilepsy use cannabidiol, known as CBD oil, to control their seizures. Davis said lawmakers need to follow-up by regulating the growth, testing and dispensing of the oil, to provide people assurances on what they're buying.

While last year's law — also pushed by Davis and Horne — allowed possession of the oil by patients and their parents, no one can legally make it in South Carolina.

The bill would "create a method that can get it in the hands of the people who need it," said Davis, R-Beaufort.

A separate bill expanding marijuana's allowed medical uses will be a tougher sell.

Dr. Tim Pearce, president of the South Carolina Medical Association, said it would diminish the professionalism of medical doctors. The association believes the only appropriate way to use marijuana is through clinical trials at academic centers, he said.

"To bypass the FDA and rely on anecdotal reports — despite of all the heart-wrenching testimony — we believe is inappropriate," said Pearce, a member of the study committee. He said few doctors would be willing to write such prescriptions anyway.

Jill Swing said her daughter's drop in seizures and improved quality of life are not anecdotal, and she had no problem getting two neurologists to sign for 7-year-old Mary Louise to get CBD oil. The numerous FDA-approved medications her daughter previously took to deal with seizures of up to 100 per hour had horrible side effects, without providing relief, she said.

"CBD oil has no negative side effects," said Swing, of Charleston, who's also on the panel. Since Mary Louis began using the oil in September, "her life has improved. She's clearer, brighter, her improvement in learning at school is remarkable."

Horne said testimony convinced her that people who are truly in pain, including those who are dying, should have legal access to a plant that helps them. The government shouldn't preclude a decision best made between families and doctors, she said. She recalled an Afghanistan veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who testified that marijuana was the only thing that stopped his constant suicidal thoughts.

"We owe it to the people who came to our committee to tell these painful stories. We're concerned with law-abiding citizens who want to do it correctly without fear of violating the law and have real medical issues," said Horne, R-Summerville. "It's incumbent upon us to not just say 'no.'"

Davis said a third bill he and Horne will introduce will clean up last year's law allowing hemp to be grown "for any lawful purpose." The problem is the federal government doesn't allow it to be grown. Their proposal would create the licensing process for farmers to grow hemp which has a minimal amount of THC, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient.

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