South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis and the Charleston woman whose personal story inspired him to take up the fight for medical cannabis in the Palmetto State headlined an event Monday in Bluffton to support the launch of a new trade association aimed at pushing the Compassionate Care Act through the state legislature.
Davis spoke to a crowd at Bluffton BBQ for a launch party and fundraiser for Healthy Carolina Now, a non-profit trade association formed in conjunction with South Carolina Business Leaders for Medical Cannabis and aimed at supporting Davis’ senate bill that would legalize medical marijuana while “drawing a bright line against recreational use.”
The bill has failed to reach the floor for a vote the past two years, but Davis is optimistic he can change that during the current two-year session, if not before this year’s session ends in May, despite objections from the state’s law enforcement and medical communities.
“I know that South Carolina is a conservative state. I get that. We’re not Colorado. We’re not California,” Davis said. “And I want a medical cannabis bill that is reflective of what South Carolinians want, and I think this is what they want.”
Davis says four different polls have shown that 70-80 percent of state residents support a medical cannabis bill that will empower doctors to prescribe the drug if they believe it will be beneficial.
“I can’t think of any other issue upon which that many South Carolinians would agree,” he said. “What it boils down to for me is this — if a doctor sitting down with a patient makes a diagnosis for which that doctor believes that cannabis will provide relief, why in the world do we have a law that says that they can’t do that?
“It is possible to have a very tightly regulated, socially conservative, narrowly drawn medical cannabis bill that empowers doctors and at the same time draw a bright line against recreational use,” Davis added. “Anybody who tells you that you can’t have a medical cannabis policy and draw a bright line against recreational use is not telling you the truth. It can be done.”
Davis took up the issue after meeting Jill Swing, a Charleston woman whose young daughter was suffering up to 2,000 seizures per day as a result of cerebral palsy and epilepsy. The duo successfully pushed a bill that allowed possession of CBD oils for medical use, but Swing learned through personal experience that the bill didn’t go far enough to protect patients in need.
“It didn’t provide us with any safe access to CBD oil,” Swing said. “It just said we could possess it but it didn’t tell us where we were supposed to get it. … We would find these sources to get the oils, but we had no idea if they were even fit for human consumption, let alone if they had any therapeutic benefit. We were paying top dollar — thousands and thousands of dollars — for these oils, and we found out later that some of them only had trace amounts of CBD in them.”
Swing says an online community of families in need of the medication would alert one another to new sources, but sometimes a child would start a new oil and lose seizure control. The oils would be sent for testing that often revealed little to no actual CBD or higher than allowed levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
“At some point I realized that every state is really an island on this issue,” Swing said. “We need in-state cultivation, and we need processing, and we need distribution, and we need testing. Patients are sick and suffering, and we don’t need to be worrying about where our medication is going to come from.”
The home-grown element is where Healthy Carolina Now is focusing its efforts, pointing to the potential economic benefit.
“There’s a $14 billion medical marijuana industry knocking at our door,” Healthy Carolina Now chair Rosie Craig said. “We’re talking about jobs, we’re talking about stimulating the economy, we’re talking about construction. … We have a bill now that is for the patients, but we have also created a good, strong environment for investment.”
While the potential economic boon to the Lowcountry would be a positive, Davis says that would simply be a bonus to doing the right thing for patients in need.
“All the statistics, all the rhetoric, whatever, all of that pales in comparison to meeting somebody who has been impacted by this and hearing somebody’s story of what they were going through before and what they are like now,” Davis said. “When I was introduced to Jill in 2014, I saw a girl go from 100 seizures an hour to trace amounts. I mean, sign me up for that. You don’t need to give me any further statistics. I don’t need anything else. I know this is right.”
Pictured at top: Tom Davis slips into a Hawaiian shirt during Healthy Carolina Now’s kickoff event Monday at Bluffton BBQ. The shirt was a reference to the controversial mailer that slammed Davis for his support of the Compassionate Care Act, which depicted an altered image of Davis in a Hawaiian shirt and holding a large bag of marijuana.