Pubdate: Sun, 22 Sep 2013
Source: Star-News (Wilmington, NC)
Copyright: 2013 Wilmington Morning Star
Author: Molly Parker


It didn't get a lot of attention, ended abruptly and took a back seat
to the likes of tax reform and the budget, but the issue of medical
marijuana legalization in North Carolina did get a hearing this year
in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Rep. Kelly Alexander Jr., D-Mecklenburg, sponsored a bill he said
would have "permitted dispensaries to be created in North Carolina,
and would have permitted it (medical marijuana) to be taxed and
appropriately regulated."

His efforts were quickly shut down - but not before a brief

"It got one of the fastest hearings in the Rules Committee of the long
session, and it was reported out unfavorably from Rules after about 15
to 20 minutes of discussion," Alexander said. "By putting it on the
'unfavorable calendar,' that pretty much meant you'd have to get a
two-thirds vote to pull it off the calendar and get it considered on
the floor, which of course didn't happen because the majority
leadership wasn't in favor of that."

Parking the bill on the unfavorable calendar also means it cannot be
considered again during the two-year session, though a restructured
measure could get a hearing if there is political will.

That appears to be an uphill battle. The state's top legislative
leaders were not eager to discuss medical marijuana legalization -
generally or specifically for children. A group of parents in North
Carolina connected by a Facebook page are seeking medical marijuana as
an option for their children who have seizure disorders. Though
clinical trials are rare and just getting under way in earnest, these
parents say a certain strain of the drug that is taken orally has
shown early promise in lessening seizures.

Efforts to get comments from the offices of Senate President Pro
Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis were unsuccessful
despite repeated attempts.

In a recent interview with the StarNews, Gov. Pat McCrory said he
didn't have enough information on the topic to have a position.

"One thing I do is my homework on issues like this," he said. He
mentioned that he was aware of headlines in New Jersey about that
state's Republican Gov. Chris Christie's approval of access to the
treatment for children. But McCrory said he did not "know enough about
it" and his office would get back with the paper.

The debate in the House was not specific to medical marijuana use for
children. It would have covered several dozen ailments for which
people could get a doctor's note to seek relief through cannabis.

Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, was quoted in newspaper articles as
saying the bill was moved quickly because lawmakers were being
"harassed" with phone calls and emails.

"We did it to be done with it, so people could move on for the
session," he told WRAL earlier this year.

In a follow-up interview with the StarNews, Stam said he opposes the
legalization of medical marijuana because "we know marijuana is a
gateway drug to other drugs."

Specifically about its use for treating seizure disorders, he said, "I
have never had any discussion or knowledge about use of this for
children. I don't know a thing about it. This is the first I've heard
of it."

In New Jersey, Christie said last month that he would accept a medical
marijuana bill that would allow qualifying children to consume edible
forms if certain changes to a bill before that state's legislature
were made. The bill would add edible marijuana  it's generally taken
orally as oil by children - to the current dry-leaf and lozenge
options allowed by that state.

North Carolina parents of children with severe seizures who could
possibly benefit from medical marijuana say they hope political
leaders try to see it from their point of view.

Liz Gorman, a mother in Raleigh, said: "They need to look at this as,
'What if this was their child?' "

"Shake the stigma," said father Matt Saggese of Wilmington.

"They're politicians; they're not doctors," added his wife,

Sen. Thom Goolsby, who represents the Saggeses in the state Senate,
sidestepped a question about whether he could support medical
marijuana legalization for children.

"I will support any and all sound medical treatments available to sick
people," he said, adding, "Side question, so I can investigate: Who is
her local doctor recommending this treatment? I will call him or her
today. ... I would love to help in any way."

The Saggeses' local doctor did not recommend the treatment for their
little girl; like other North Carolina parents, they have read and
researched reports on its success in other states. Annette Saggese
said, "Because our current doctor is in North Carolina, he has no
experience with medical cannabis because he is not allowed to do
clinical trials."

Their daughter has also seen neurologists and epileptologists at New
York University who are currently doing clinical trials.
"Unfortunately, we cannot take part in the trials, even if invited to,
because it is not legal here in North Carolina," she said.

An August CNN article titled "Marijuana stops child's severe seizures"
brought national attention to the topic. The marijuana strain used by
children is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the
component of marijuana that's psychoactive. It's high in cannabidiol,
or CBD, which has shown to have medical properties. The story featured
a 6-year-old Colorado girl named Charlotte Figi, who has Dravet
syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. The particular strain that has
helped with Charlotte's seizures has been dubbed "Charlotte's Web."

Gorman, of Raleigh, is among parents on a waiting list for the Realm
of Caring Foundation, a Colorado nonprofit organization that provides
cannabis to adults and children, including the "Charlotte's Web"
strain featured in the article.

Dr. Christian Thurstone, an associate professor of psychiatry with
Denver Health and the University of Colorado, said he doesn't fault
parents for seeking options. However, he recommended that North
Carolina, where he has familial ties, take a far more cautious
approach to the legalization of marijuana than has Colorado, which he
says is facing many unintended public health consequences, including
increased access by teenagers to the drug.

He said the "safest thing" would be for parents to push for speedy
availability of marijuana extract medicines - which are not smoked -
through the Food and Drug Administration. He said it should be within
a couple of years that an oral spray called Sativex is made available
through that route. The drugs currently being used in Colorado and
other states are not FDA-approved, he said, so it's important that
parents push the FDA for these new medications.

"That's great parents are pursuing these options," he said. "That's
best for their kids and public health as well."
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