COLUMBIA - Lawmakers should carve out an exemption for a type of medical marijuana that helps those with severe forms of epilepsy, a House panel decided Thursday.
The subcommittee passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, who is seeking an exemption for a type of medical marijuana extract called Cannabidiol oil, which does not include the chemical THC, associated with the "high" effects of marijuana.
CBD oil and medical marijuana treatment in general have caught on as stories of success from Colorado and a strain of marijuana known as "Charlotte's Web" have helped those with epilepsy. Horne and Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, also plan to work together as he pursues a separate Senate bill that looks to achieve the same goal.
Horne said the law she is seeking decriminalizes possession of CBD as long as there is a patient-doctor relationship.
An NBC Charleston reporter had asked Horne about a Summerville family who moved from South Carolina to Colorado in order to get access to the drug, Horne said. She has said it's unfortunate that Amanda De Nobrega's son, 3-year-old Julian, could not get treatment in the Palmetto State. She said she is calling the bill "Julian's Act."
"If this bill had been passed ... Julian's family would not have had to move to Colorado," Horne told the committee.
Those who testified at the subcommittee said the bill does not go far enough, and that there are benefits to other forms of medical marijuana. Also on Thursday, House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, filed a broader bill that would offer patients the chance to be prescribed medical marijuana for severe illnesses, including cancer and multiple sclerosis.
"I hear devastating stories every single day from people who are battling epilepsy or suffering from a brain tumor who desperately need medical marijuana to treat the debilitating symptoms," Rutherford said in a statement.
Harriet Hilton, the grandmother of Mary Louise Swing, 6, who suffers from epilepsy, said that she worries that epilepsy sufferers will not be able to get access to the CBD oil even if the bill is passed.
The bill calls for clinical trials of a CBD-based drug, but very few can participate in such trials, Hilton said. While the bill would also allow doctors to prescribe CBD oil pharmaceuticals, it's unclear whether all doctors would be able to do so.
"There are thousands of children that need this," Hilton said. "There is not going to be enough access and enough of the oil for people who need it."
Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, an emergency room physician, said that prescribing CBD oil is well within the "bright white lines" of accepted medical practice. Medical marijuana also has been known to have other positive effects, but there are very few accepted scientific studies on the issue, he and others said.
Because federal law outlaws medical marijuana, it can put doctors in a difficult spot, even if they're allowed to prescribe medical marijuana under state law, Crawford said. He said some of those issues should be addressed as other lawmakers weigh in when the full House Judiciary Committee considers the bill.
Chris Raffield, 45, of Sumter, said the proposed measure doesn't go far enough. Raffield attended the hearing but didn't get the chance to speak.
As a former law enforcement agent from a conservative family, Raffield said he never thought he'd be an admitted marijuana user. But debilitating multiple sclerosis and brain and spinal problems have caused him large amounts of physical pain and nausea, he said.
As a former state trooper, he said he doesn't buy the drug, but others deliver it to him. It increases his appetite and helps with pain, he said.
"We're not criminals," he said of people who smoke marijuana for medical reasons. "I believe it's a lot more safe than alcohol. Why aren't we going ahead and doing it? It's time to stop being scared."
Reach Jeremy Borden at 843-708-5837 or on Twitter @Jeremy_Borden.