Pubdate: Wed, 21 Jan 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Tom Jackman


The push by parents of children with epilepsy to obtain medical 
marijuana in Virginia has resulted in three new bills in the General 
Assembly that would allow the use of a cannabis oil to battle their 
children's debilitating seizures.

On Thursday, the parents and children plan to aggressively lobby the 
legislators who will consider the bills in the Virginia House and 
Senate, and hope to show them a powerful seven minute video of 
families pleading for legal access to the oil. The video also shows 
children in the throes of epileptic seizures and memorializes those 
who have died as a result of intractable epilepsy.

Beth Collins of Fairfax, one of two Northern Virginia mothers who 
moved to Colorado with their daughters last year to obtain cannabis 
oil, is helping to lead the movement on two fronts: as part of 
Virginia Parents for Medical Marijuana, which has enlisted 
legislators to file bills on their behalf, and the national Parents 
Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis, which is pushing to have 
federal authorities remove marijuana from Schedule I classification.

Collins and her daughter Jennifer, 15, will be among the lobbying 
corps Thursday, and Collins produced the video. They moved back to 
Fairfax from Colorado Springs last month, even though the cannabis 
oil Jennifer was taking had greatly reduced her seizures. The stress 
on the family, and Jennifer's desire to be back in familiar 
surroundings, caused them to return, they said.

The three bills addressing medical marijuana each have slightly 
different approaches, and their sponsors have realistic outlooks; 
they do not expect any of them to pass this year. But all three 
Fairfax legislators hope to get the discussion rolling, and perhaps 
nudge federal authorities closer to either rescheduling marijuana or 
not enforcing laws for those who use it for specified medicinal purposes.

Sen. David W. Marsden (DFairfax) wrote a bill, with Collins's help, 
which creates a new code section and specifically legalizes both 
cannabidiol oil (also known as CBD) and THC-A oil, the two extracts 
of marijuana that do not have the weed's intoxicating properties but 
do have great impact on epileptic seizures. Collins and others have 
found that THC oil had far greater effectiveness on her daughter's 
seizures than CBD, and is created with amounts of THC that don't get 
the user high.

"I wanted to make this very focused," Marsden said. "I felt we needed 
to get the discussion going. This is how we talk about things; we 
don't have a conversation unless there's a bill to talk about."

Marsden's bill requires a licensed doctor to make a "valid 
recommendation" for the medical cannabis oil, as do bills by Dels. 
David Albo (R-Fairfax) and Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax). That's 
because medical marijuana has actually been legal in Virginia since 
1979 - except that it requires "a valid prescription," and doctors 
cannot legally prescribe marijuana while it is federally restricted.

The term "recommendation" bothers Virginia prosecutors. The Virginia 
Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys "does not oppose legislation 
that would allow people with epilepsy to be treated with medical 
marijuana oil" with a prescription, said Nancy Parr, the Chesapeake 
City commonwealth's attorney and head of the association. But 
prosecutors do "have a concern about the word 'recommendation' as 
opposed to 'prescription,' " she said, because it is not legally 
defined and regulated. Parr said prosecutors planned to meet with 
Albo to discuss that issue.

Albo's bill also inserts the word "epilepsy" into the conditions for 
which medical marijuana may be recommended. The current law allows it 
only for cancer or glaucoma. Plum's bill instead deletes cancer and 
glaucoma and would make medical marijuana available without 
specifying a condition, though still require a doctor's recommendation.

Albo said, "I'm just trying to take an existing law and allow it to 
apply to seizures. If my kid had 100 seizures per day, I'd give it a 
try." Similarly, Plum said he had heard from people with epilepsy and 
other conditions who said marijuana helped them. "I don't know why it 
should be denied to individuals to whom it would give relief," Plum 
said, noting that medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District.

Albo acknowledged that some legislators are troubled that cannabis 
hasn't been sufficiently scientifically tested or approved by the 
Food and Drug Administration. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), a pediatric 
neurologist who has treated many children with intractable epilepsy, 
said Virginia is working on that testing.

He said clinical studies approved by the FDA would soon start at 
Children's Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University 
and Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk with epidiolex, a 
product with CBD oil that will be tested on children with Dravet and 
Lennox-Gastaut syndromes of epilepsy. Effectiveness will be quickly 
apparent in a double blind placebo study, Northam said, and results 
available later this year.

Northam said successful studies could reassure legislators and 
doctors that medical marijuana is truly viable, as opposed to the 
anecdotal evidence from the families.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom