Inside a South Carolina mother’s fight for medical cannabis

Palmetto Pot War

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — After realizing that her daughter’s medications weren’t working, Jill Swing knew she didn’t have any other options.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy before she turned two years old, Mary Louise was experiencing between 800 to 1,000 seizures a day. 

So, in the summer of 2016, Swing took her daughter to Maine so they could legally access THC.

“When we added THC to her daily regime, it’s like she became alive,” Swing said. “It’s almost like an awakening.

Swing, now the founder of the South Carolina Compassionate Care Alliance, is fighting to get similar legislation passed at home.

“A mom is going to do what she needs to do for her child. I’m never going to give up on my daughter and never going to give up on getting her medication that I have seen first hand works,” Swing said.

South Carolina is one of 14 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. Under the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, that could soon change.

If passed, the act would allow doctors to recommend up to a 14-day supply of medical cannabis to help treat conditions such as cancer, neurological diseases and disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, terminal illnesses with less than a one-year life expectancy and for a chronic medical condition that causes severe and persistent muscle spasms, among others.

South Carolina Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, has been trying to get medical marijuna passed for seven years after meeting Swing and Mary Louise. Davis, the act’s sponsor, calls his bill the most conservative medical cannabis legislation in the nation. 

“I’m not giving something that’s liberal,” Davis said. “I’m not giving something that’s a backdoor to recreational use. I’m coming up with a very conservative, tightly-regulated medical cannabis policy that empowers doctors to help patients out of suffering.”

One of the legislation’s biggest opponents in previous years has been the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

“If you vote yes for this bill, what I’ve said many times. Be prepared for Pandora’s box of unintended consequences,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said during a Senate Subcommittee meeting in 2019.

News 13 reached out to SLED for an interview or statement from Keel on this year’s bill, and was not granted either.

Davis said he’s addressed some of the agency’s concerns, which includes eliminating smoking cannabis. Under the bill, medical cannabis will only be able to be taken orally, rubbed on the skin, used topically or vaped.

Another one of law enforcement’s biggest concerns is that medical cannabis could be used recreationally. Davis’s bill includes a 24/7 seed-to-sale tracking system that shows where cannabis will be.

The program would be administered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, with oversight by SLED.

If passed, medical cannabis would be taxed 6%. Most of the resulting money would go to the general fund.

The bill has more co-sponsors than ever before, on both sides of the aisle.

“Hundreds of kids have come into my office over the last four years,” said Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown. “One child had 30 to 40 seizures in my office, every 30 to 40 seconds.”

Goldfinch used to oppose medical cannabis, but his mind changed a few years ago.

“It used to make sense to me, but it doesn’t make sense to me now,” he said. “I can’t explain to you my evolution other than watching those kids come into my office and telling them, their parents, ‘I’m not going to help you cause some druggie may get this?’ Some druggie may abuse the system? It wasn’t a good enough excuse for me anymore.”

For now, Swing will continue to share her message about what medical cannabis was able to do for her daughter.

“She was so alert,” Swing said. “She was more physically stable. She could stand independently, she could sit independently.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending stories