COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — State lawmakers debated a bill for the first time in state history that would legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort County, wrote and sponsored a bill that he touts as the “most conservative” medical cannabis legislation in the nation. 

Davis expressed his disappointment with the state GOP for its disapproval of medical marijuana.

Jill Swing told legislators she saw the benefits of medical marijuana firsthand with her daughter.

“Patients in this state are suffering, and we need this medication,” Swing said. “To keep it away from them because of fear and stigma is just wrong. It’s inhumane.”

Swing’s 14-year-old daughter, Mary Louise, has a debilitating seizure condition, and at one point was having up to 1,000 seizures a day. 

“We kept fiddling with her medications and nothing was working, and she was really, really suffering,” Swing said. “I made the decision to take her to Maine where they have a visiting patient program so that she could get cannabis, legally, under a doctor’s care and guidance.”

Swing said that in the five weeks they were at the facility she saw a healthier, more independent and vocal side of Mary Louise.

“She shouldn’t have to suffer back here in South Carolina just because she can’t have access to a medicine that I have watched how it works for her,” she said. “I’ve seen how it changed her life.”

Swing said the major hurdle to overcome in the general assembly is the stigma and misinformation about cannabis that impacts public and law enforcements perspective.

“I think if lawmakers really listen to the facts, they are going to land on our side, but I know that every single one that I spoke to yesterday is getting an extreme amount of pushback from their sheriff.”

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Sheriff’s Association have been vocal about its disapproval of medical cannabis, but Swing believes if the bill becomes law, officers and law enforcement will become allies.

Gary Hess is a United States Marine veteran. He transitioned to civilian life after a suicide blast injured him during a tour in Iraq. Since then, he’s had several related physical and mental illnesses.

“I was diagnosed in a transition home with traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, significant hearing loss, post-traumatic stress disorder among a myriad of other conditions,” Hess said. “I was fed a pharmaceutical firehose, and then just shy of ten years my mental and physical health declined so much that I thought taking my own life was the best answer.”

Hess started to incorporate medical cannabis into his daily routine. While he said it was not the only contributing factor to his health, it was a part of the solution.

Hess is now the CEO of Veterans Alliance for Homeopathic Alternatives, an organization he founded to help veterans through an experience he went through himself. 

“I can tell you that between my dog and integrated cannabis on a daily basis is why I’m sitting here today,” he said.

While the topic is still highly contested, some minds have changed in recent years.

“I think the time has come for us to have this debate and quite frankly I think it’s got a good chance at passing this year,” said Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet.

Goldfinch recognizes he was once an advocate against the legalization of cannabis, but after seeing how it helped a young girl firsthand, he changed his mind.

“I cannot wrap my head around anymore why we disadvantage kids with severe epilepsy, why we disadvantage people with stage four cancer who are in extreme pain, in order to try to keep a pothead from getting his hands on a joint,” he said.  “It doesn’t make sense to me. It is the worst policy ever. It is an irresponsible policy, and it is not a righteous policy in any way, shape or form.”

Goldfinch also understands why law enforcement officers are against it and recognizes it is a “slippery slope.”

“Medical marijuana will turn into recreational marijuana which will turn into a free for all,” he said. “The question is very simply, if we have the political courage to boil it down to this, does it matter? Does it matter at the expense of the people who truly need it? Does it matter if potheads have a little bit easier access to marijuana? And to me right now the answer is no. It doesn’t.”