COLUMBIA - A bill that would allow patients who have severe epilepsy to be treated with a type of medical marijuana is headed for a final vote in the General Assembly next week, where it's expected to pass.

The bill, H. 4803, has already moved through the S.C. House and its passage in the S.C. Senate is expected next week after a key Senate committee moved it unanimously on Thursday.

The bill provides for the potential use of cannabidiol oil (CBD), which contains marijuana extract but little THC, the chemical that produces a "high." The drug has offered hope to many who have difficult-to-treat epileptic symptoms, although clinical trials and extensive medical research are in early stages.

The measure was prompted by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, after hearing the story of West Ashley's Mary Louise Swing, a 6-year-old who is severely inhibited by near constant seizures. Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, moved the bill through the House.

Introduced this year, the bill has sailed through the General Assembly in remarkable time for an issue that could have been bogged down in controversy. Davis hopes it's a harbinger of things to come. "I hope we take up other operative uses of medical marijuana," Davis said. "We need to go ahead and start to break down the prejudices against this plant."

Jill Swing and Harriett Hilton, Mary Louise's mother and grandmother, attended Thursday's hearing and said they were delighted by the turn of the events. Originally, the bill was solely meant to help prompt clinical trials for CBD oil at the Medical University of South Carolina and other state hospitals that treat severe epilepsy.

It does that and now also allows doctors to prescribe the drug, and protects doctors who do so from state prosecution.

The bill also sets up a joint House-Senate committee to begin looking at how the state would handle a federal decision to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes. While many states have begun to decriminalize medical marijuana, it remains illegal under federal law, which has caused myriad issues on a practical level with getting medical marijuana into the hands of patients.

Many are hoping that will change over the next few years.

"So that we're prepared," Davis told senators of why a study committee was needed. "If we don't have something in place it will be the Wild West out there."

Swing said there was still much work to be done for CBD oil to help her daughter. The biggest hurdle: supply of the drug. While the bill would allow for doctors to prescribe the drug, there is no mechanism for doctors to be able to get the drug or for the state to legally grow it.

Clinical trials, if approved, can often be difficult to get into and the studies also involve a placebo.

"So many states are running into the same issues," Swing said.

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee also moved to the Senate floor a bill that would set up a statewide voluntary education and vaccination program for middle school-age on human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can cause cancer. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection and anyone can contract it, including those who only have sex with one partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.