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Commentary: SC medical marijuana bill would help my 13-year-old daughter, others like her

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Jill Swing. Photo provided.

For seven long years, I have been trekking to Columbia to try to persuade legislators to give my daughter a chance at a better life. South Carolinians with serious medical conditions deserve the same medical freedom patients have in 36 other states: the ability to use medicinal cannabis when it is recommended by their physician.

Poll after poll shows that more than 70% of voters support changing South Carolina’s laws to allow a compassionate medical cannabis program.

My 13-year-old daughter, Mary Louise, has a devastating seizure condition. I was grateful when lawmakers stood up for patients like her, despite federal law, and allowed hemp extracts to be produced into CBD products. These low-potency cannabinoid products have provided Mary Louise with some relief. But when visiting Maine, we learned how much more relief she could garner with full medicinal cannabis under a doctor’s care and guidance.

Over the years, I’ve met dozens of South Carolinians who are suffering because our state has not decriminalized medical cannabis. People like Margaret Richardson, a grandmother who suffers from an excruciating condition that often left her bedridden before she tried cannabis. South Carolina’s cruel laws force Margaret to creep around like a criminal. She has sometimes run out of the supply of the medicine that gave her life back. I also know many veterans who have been able to substantially decrease their dependence on debilitating pharmaceutical drugs by consuming medical cannabis for their service-related PTSD and pain.

Now, at long last, the bill that would give my daughter and so many others relief, the S.C. Compassionate Care Act, is on the Senate floor.

Despite the incredibly conservative nature of the bill, SLED Chief Mark Keel claimed in an opinion piece on Saturday that the Compassionate Care Act is “about legalizing marijuana” and made a number of other misleading claims. The S.C. Compassionate Care Act is about medicine, and I am writing to set the record straight.

Chief Keel asked, “When was the last time we needed South Carolina legislation for a medicine to be prescribed by a doctor or dispensed by a pharmacy?” I believe it was in 2016, when our Legislature approved a “Right to Try” law to allow investigational drugs to be provided to terminally ill patients.

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As Chief Keel noted, the FDA hasn't approved marijuana, and 77% of South Carolinians would like it to regulate marijuana. I’m among them. However, in 1970 Congress made a decision to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug that was political and not based on science. In doing so, the federal government created a Catch-22 that has made FDA approval of plant cannabis virtually impossible despite thousands of studies showing its safety and medical value. I would love the federal government to do its job and allow medical cannabis nationwide. But its failure to act is no excuse for the state to fail its most vulnerable.

Chief Keel’s portrayal of medical cannabis dispensaries is nothing like what S.150 itself would require. Each dispensary must have a trained pharmacist, physician’s assistant or clinical practice nurse to advise patients about dosing and modes of administration. Cannabis would have to be lab-tested, labeled for potency and identified by cannabinoid profile, not “flashy names.” Products could not appeal to minors, and stores would be required to have a discreet, medical appearance.

His claim that this bill is a danger to our children is a red herring. Study after study has shown that youth cannabis use does not go up in medical cannabis states. The only minors who could use cannabis under the bill are those like my daughter who have a specific serious illness and support and guidance from their parents and physicians.

South Carolina lawmakers — not Congress — write our state laws. The Legislature has stood up for its citizens’ medical freedom before in the face of unjust federal laws, and it can and must do so again.

Please contact your legislators and ask them to make 2021 the year they finally pass the S.C. Compassionate Care Act. It is narrowly crafted, conservative and desperately needed.

Jill Swing is president of the S.C. Compassionate Care Alliance in Charleston.

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