Lenexa resident Christine Gordon can’t stop her daughter’s seizures with any legal product. She’s tried.
Gordon’s daughter, Autumn, is 6 now, but is developmentally like a 2-year-old because of the seizures that started shortly after she was born. Autumn has a type of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome that so far has resisted all conventional medical treatments.
Gordon wants Autumn to be able to try an oil derived from cannabis that, in states where it’s legal, has helped some kids have fewer seizures. Kansas law doesn’t allow the use of marijuana in any form for any reason. But there are some people who can get the oil in Missouri, and by the end of the year it could be available to a lot more people there.
Gordon said she doesn’t want to move. But she might have to.
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“Our family has discussed it,” Gordon said. “If we do not pass this legislation very soon we’re going to have to look at other options, because she has nothing left in Kansas except removing part of her brain.”
There’s been no movement on medical marijuana in Kansas for years, even as dozens of other states have legalized it, and there’s no indication lawmakers are close to passing it this year.
But in Missouri, a signature drive to put the issue directly to voters is gaining momentum.
Jack Cardetti, the leader of New Approach Missouri, said his group has gotten about 200,000 of the 170,000 signatures it needs to get medical marijuana on the ballot in November and it’s still collecting them.
Last year the group narrowly missed the threshold because thousands of its signatures were declared invalid. This year, Cardetti expects to have plenty of cushion.
If medical marijuana gets on the ballot, there may be no stopping it. Voters in Arkansas approved it by 6 percentage points and voters in North Dakota and Florida approved it by double-digits in 2016.
“Support of this issue is increasing every year,” Cardetti said, “and we feel great about the chances of Missouri becoming the 30th state to allow medical marijuana.”
Cardetti’s group is one of three trying to get medical marijuana on the ballot and is particularly well-funded, with more than $1 million raised from pro-legalization individuals and groups nationwide.
Missouri is already one of about 15 other states that allow some access to a marijuana derivative called cannabidiol, or CBD, for medical use, but it’s one of the country’s most restrictive programs. It allows only residents with diagnosed epilepsy to apply for registration cards that allow them to legally possess CBD from plants grown in one of two state-licensed facilities.
The plants there are bred to have little to no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the substance in marijuana that creates the “high” that recreational users crave.
The constitutional amendment being promoted by New Approach Missouri would allow a much wider range of patients to have access to a much wider range of plants. Cardetti said there’s broad support for it that cuts across political lines.
“Far too many of us have neighbors, friends and colleagues who are suffering with debilitating illnesses and we believe they should at least have that right to speak with their doctor about whether medical marijuana is an effective treatment option,” Cardetti said.
The science is still out on that question for many conditions, in part because the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance has hampered research.
But a few pharmaceutical drugs made with synthetic cannabis ingredients have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat nausea and appetite loss and hundreds of “marijuana refugees” have moved to states like Colorado to access marijuana for a host of other conditions.
The story of a Baldwin City, Kan., family that moved because of their son’s seizures inspired a bill legalizing low-THC “hemp oil” that passed the Kansas House in 2015 before dying in the Kansas Senate.
That’s the closest medical marijuana has ever come to being legalized in Kansas. Legalization has been opposed by some doctors who say the state shouldn’t set up a drug approval system outside of the consumer protection provided by the FDA and law enforcement groups that say it would be difficult to keep medical marijuana out of the hands of recreational users.
Unlike Missouri, Kansas has restrictive rules for taking an issue straight to the voters, so that’s not an option for medical marijuana advocates.
That’s left Kansas with arguably the nation’s strictest prohibition against cannabis. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt recently released an opinion saying it’s illegal for Kansans to sell or possess anything derived from marijuana, even CBD products with no THC.
Gordon belongs to a group pushing for a medical marijuana bill, but there’s no hearing on it scheduled and the first deadlines of the legislative session are approaching.
Gordon said she hasn’t given up yet, but she’s girding for another year of the “complete helplessness” she feels every time Autumn has a seizure.
“Dravet isn’t something that goes away,” Gordon said. “It’s something we’re going to have to deal with the rest of her life. But I would like to see her have better seizure control, be able to go to school, help with her cognitive function, her behavior issues. ... I don’t know how much longer the government can go against the people and the people let them get away with it. It’s overwhelming that the citizens of the United States support medical cannabis.”