MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama lawmaker is seeking to decriminalize the possession of medicinal marijuana oil in a bid to help families dealing with serious epilepsy and other medical conditions.
State Rep. Mike Ball, a Republican, originally supported a piece of legislation called Carly’s Law in 2014, which sought to establish a cannabidiol study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Though Carly’s Law is widely considered a success, certain federal regulations led to restrictive qualifications that left several families still struggling for relief.
The House Judiciary Committee heard public testimony Wednesday on Ball’s new bill, also known as “Leni’s Law.” Families gathered with their children and requested immediate action, but opponents from the law enforcement and medical communities urged caution.
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Leni Young, the legislation’s namesake, suffered a stroke in-utero and was diagnosed soon after birth with an epilepsy condition and a rare form of cerebral palsy. Multiple medications eventually reduced hundreds of daily seizures to just a few dozen, but her father Wayne Young said Wednesday they made her lethargic and rotted the toddler’s teeth.
After Leni was denied access to the UAB study, the Young family decided to leave their family and jobs in Alabama to move to Oregon, where they could legally access cannabidiol, also called CBD oil.
Via video conference Wednesday, Young said they noticed improvements within an hour of her first CBD oil dose. Leni, now 4, is more engaged, can hold up and turn her head, and is expected to live through adolescence. And, Young said, the oils don’t give her a high, unlike the prescription medications that essentially leave her “stoned.”
The family purchases the oils through legal marijuana growers in Oregon, which he said are strictly regulated and tested. Leni has had five seizures since moving to Oregon ten months ago.
“Our daughter is living proof that this works, and having free and unencumbered access to it is the key,” Wayne said.
Cannabidiol doesn’t cause a high like marijuana due to reduced amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a psychoactive property of cannabis. Ball’s legislation would provide for up to 3 percent THC in legal CBD oils.
Dr. Shannon Murphy, a pediatrician who spoke out Thursday against the bill on behalf of the state medical association and the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, believes 3 percent THC is too potent for children’s developing brains. Epidiolex, the pharmacy-grade oil used in the UAB study, contains 0.2 percent THC.
Murphy said physicians are also concerned with the medicinal use of non-FDA regulated products.
“We have an issue with the content of the product,” Murphy said. “We cannot guarantee the purity, potency and consistency.”
Dustin Chandler, father of Carly’s Law namesake, said his daughter’s seizures have decreased dramatically due to Epidiolex — from as many as 300 a day to four over five or six days. Approximately 50 percent of patients in the UAB study saw “sustained improvement in seizure control,” according to a report UAB released earlier this month. Two patients are currently seizure-free.
Chandler said the reduction in seizures lets his child’s brain and body to rest. It’s the first time he’s been able to connect with his 5-year-old daughter, and he wants families left out of the UAB study to be able to do the same.
“If you’ve never been able to connect through your child’s eyes, and then you are able to connect through her eyes, it is one of the most godly things on this planet,” Chandler said in an emotional testimony.
Ball’s legislation remains in the judiciary committee. It’s unclear when the committee will vote on the bill.