WASHINGTON, D.C. 14 May, 2015 – The plight of “cannabis refugees” – people who abandon their home states to obtain medical marijuana treatment for children with severe epilepsy – was a factor in freshman U.S. senator Cory Gardner’s decision to introduce the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act of 2015 (S.1333) on Wednesday.
“Colorado has become a haven for people in need and parents desperate to pursue treatment for their children,” Gardner (R-CO) said in a press release. “Making this medicine available nationwide is the right thing to do and would help families cope with these serious illnesses.” He added that the bill would “exempt from the Controlled Substances Act strains of therapeutic hemp used to fight seizures in children and adults suffering from intractable epilepsy.”
Gardner was joined by other Republican senators Johnny Isakson (GA) and Orrin Hatch (UT) in co-sponsoring the bill with Democrat colleagues Jeff Merkley (OR) and Michael Bennet, also a Coloradan. The bill comes after similar legislation was introduced in the House by Republican congressman Scott Perry (York County -PA), last year, but did not advance.
Among the latest bill’s co-sponsors, the two Colorado senators have witnessed the cannabis refugee phenomenon firsthand. Bennet said: “No parent wants to see their child suffer. At the very least, we should ease these restrictions to ensure that families have access to the medicine that their kids need.” He went on to praise the effects of the nonpsychoactive (meaning it does not cause a “high”) extract the bill will protect, saying, “Cannabidiol has shown it can significantly reduce the number of seizures for kids with epilepsy.”
By exempting CBD/cannabidiol-rich strains of cannabis from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the bill would enable nationwide streamlining of access. Patients would be able to buy and transport the medicine they need, regardless of where they live. It would also free schools to permit doses of prescribed cannabidiol-based medicines to be brought onto campus. At present a New Jersey family is in a legal battle to have their daughter permitted to eat her medication in a school lunch.
Thirty-seven states have now passed state legislation permitting the use of cannabidiol-based medicine, some specifying only its use for epilepsy on compassionate grounds. However all forms of cannabis, including industrial hemp, are banned under the Controlled Substances Act, causing confusion and uncertainty for patients. Senator Merkley described federal drug policy as “outdated” and said government should not get in the way of medicine that could make a huge difference in the lives of struggling children. Co-sponsor Sen. Wyden said, “Federal laws are out of step and needless barriers remain.”
The conflict between federal and state law has driven over 250 families to uproot their lives and move to Colorado to gain access to strains like Charlotte’s Web, named after the epileptic child whose life it changed. “What about the families that don’t have means to move across the country?” Gardner said. “Our legislation today will address that concern.”
Sen. Isakson said: “The legislation also removes federal barriers for Georgia families who want to bring the cannabis oil back to Georgia in order to administer medical treatment in the comfort of their own home.” He added, “I’ve always been a supporter of research and innovation as a leading driver in finding new and improved treatment options for those affected by diseases and disorders.”
Utah senator Orrin Hatch, who opposes broader cannabis legalization, said he recognized that certain compounds in the marijuana plant do not produce any sort of ‘high’ because the THC content is so low. “Where, as with cannabidiol, it is possible to isolate these compounds in a way that eliminates any sort of psychoactive effect,” he said, “I support allowing people to use them to treat illness and improve their lives.”
The bill is supported by the Epilepsy Foundation and the Coalition for Access Now, non-profits which advocate for individuals and families impacted by epilepsy and seizures. Nearly three million Americans suffer from “intractable epilepsy,” a condition which causes uncontrollable seizures, often hundreds each week. Brain damage, heart strain, and even death are associated with the illness.