As a wave of medical cannabis laws sweeps the nation, with even conservative states jumping on the bandwagon, the mainstream press sometimes makes it appear as though laws are proposed, passed, and then simply help millions of patients improve their conditions with the kind herb.
However, many states have passed or in the process of passing very narrow, limited medical cannabis laws that exclude millions of sick children and adults. Chronically and severely ill patients who find little or no relief — and plenty of negative side effects — from conventional therapies and pharmaceutical drugs are desperate for help. After having exhausted traditional treatments, doctors and friends often recommend medical marijuana as a last resort.
Unfortunately, many of these patients, with conditions such as epilepsy, severe pain, and PTSD, are breaking the law if they try something as benign as a CBD oil (which contains no THC and can’t get them high). From conservative Louisiana to progressive Colorado, laws supposedly crafted to help the sick and dying often exclude major diseases and, in the process, leave millions in pain and suffering who could otherwise be helped.
Louisiana Deprives Epileptic Children
One example is Ella Grace Hall, a four-year-old girl in Louisiana who suffers from severe epilepsy. Hall consumes six separate drugs each day in an attempt to control her seizures and give her a semblance of a normal life. The only problem: The drugs aren’t working. Amazingly, Louisiana’s law doesn’t cover epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, or even Crohn’s disease.
The lack of legal protection for treating a major condition like epilepsy has caused Hall’s mother to split up her family, moving her daughter to Colorado where CBD oil is legal and readily available. Like hundreds of other families, Hall is a “cannabis refugee” who must leave her home and loved ones to reside in a more enlightened, reasonable state that permits her to treat her condition with CBD oil and other derivatives of the plant.
Even Colorado is Guilty
Which, of course, makes Colorado appear to be the smartest kid on the block in terms of progressive compassion and science-based public policy. Unfortunately, even the Centennial State is guilty of excluding major conditions from its list of those qualifying for legal consumption of marijuana to gain relief. As recently as July 15, the Colorado Board of Health, in a vote of 6-2, elected to continue excluding PTSD from its list of qualifying conditions.
A number of other states, including New York, North Carolina, and Alabama, have passed very narrow medical cannabis laws that do not include a long list of major conditions. These states relegate thousands of very sick patients to obtaining their herbal medicine from the black market, with no legal protections or assurances of purity or quality.
Even in progressive Colorado, a state that has become the beacon of hope for millions of sick people and marijuana legalization advocates throughout the nation, patients are sometimes denied safe, legal access to an herb for which overwhelming empirical and anecdotal evidence is available (especially for conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, and Crohn’s disease).
Until state governors and legislative leaders cease using medical marijuana as a political football and bill signing photo opp, thousands of patients will continue to needlessly suffer. Those who defend prohibition and exclusion of major conditions from very narrow state laws due to a lack of research — but then defend the Schedule I status of cannabis that prevents research from occurring — are playing a hypocritical and illogical game that insults patients and perpetuates a crude and decades-long culture war.
And until that stops, very sick patients like Ella Grace Hall will continue to suffer or be separated from their families — or worse, die.
In March, social and alternative media reported how the 11-year-old son of a Garden City, Kansas woman, Shona Banda, was removed from her custody by Child Protective Services following a raid on her home. Police found cannabis and cannabis oil.
For weeks, authorities in Kansas refused to grant Banda custody of her son, while also dragging their heels in terms of filing charges against the woman. That all changed on June 5 when the state of Kansas filed five felony counts against Banda, including possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, manufacturing cannabis oil, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and one count of child endangerment.
According to Banda’s attorney, she could face a maximum of 30 years in prison if convicted to the full extent of the law on all five charges.
Crohn’s patient Shona Banda
The case of Banda is striking not only because of the brash and insensitive actions of local law enforcement against this medical marijuana patient who suffers from Crohn’s disease, but more so because it clearly illustrates the great disparity of cannabis laws and penalties in the United States.
Only 70 miles to the west of Garden City, Kansas — roughly a one-hour drive — on the eastern edge of Colorado, a patient in Banda’s situation would have a very different experience. In Colorado, patients visit a local medical dispensary, obtain professional recommendations for the best approach to their disease, purchase their medicine, and consume it in the privacy of their homes. With their children in their custody. Fully legally.
Because of something as simple as a state border.
Not so in the progressive state of Kansas, where Banda has lived for nearly two months without her son — but with the memory of a police raid and the loss of her medicine. The five felony counts filed against her by Kansas are an indication that the state is serious and may be planning to make an example of her case.
“These mothers are being forced to choose between their health and their ability to be a parent,”
said Sarah Swain, the attorney who is representing Banda.
Both Kansas and Nebraska have taken legal action against the state of Colorado for its marijuana legalization. Culturally, Kansas and Colorado couldn’t be more different. Through actions like the raid and bust of Banda, Kansas has proven that, instead of following the economically healthy compassion laws of its western neighbor, this prohibitionist state would prefer to continue the drug war and persecute mothers with Crohn’s disease.
How many more success stories like that of Colorado are necessary before conservative states like Kansas understand the economic advantages and moral imperative that is medical cannabis? How much evidence must be gathered before Luddite states like Kansas and Nebraska recognize the clear path to legalization that is the early 21st century? How many more single mothers with severe diseases must suffer before legislators do something about the problem?
Some will remember the name of medical cannabis activist Shona Banda, the Crohn’s sufferer and cannabis oil user known for devising an inexpensive way to utilize a vaporizer to produce cannabis oil from the plant’s flowers. Ms. Banda lost her son to state custody last week when the 11-year-old boy spoke in support of medical cannabis during an anti-pot class held by counselors at his school.
Banda’s Facebook account, which has been shut down by the Garden City Police Department, was being utilized to raise money for her legal defense following the police raid of her home. The raid resulted in the state taking her son into custody for three days and then granting custody not to her, but instead to her ex-husband — who she feared would also be deemed an unfit parent and lose custody to the state.
During the raid, officers found two ounces of cannabis and one ounce of cannabis oil in the home. Ms. Banda used these herbs and herbal extracts — which 24 states have now recognized as having legal medicinal value — to treat her Crohn’s disease. She endured a three-hour session with police at her door as they waited for a search warrant from a judge, as well as the absence of her son for several days (he was taken to an out-of-town location).
Having lost her Facebook account, Ms. Banda is currently utilizing a GoFundMe account to raise money. To date, she has raised $25,000 from more than 940 contributors over only a five day period. Ms. Banda has not yet been charged with a crime; her custody hearing takes place on April 20.
On Thursday, April 16, Georgia governor Nathan Deal made the highly regulated and limited use of cannabis oil legal in his state by signing the Haleigh’s Hope Act.
Named after Haleigh Cox, a five-year-old Georgia resident with a severe form of epilepsy, the law is surprising progress in an area of southern America that has, thus far, failed to follow the lead of medical cannabis pioneers like California, Oregon, and Colorado.
The oil, which is extracted from a strain of marijuana that’s low in THC, doesn’t give users the psychoactive effect and euphoric high of street varieties, making it perfect for both children and adults with jobs and careers. Instead of THC, this powerful extract is rich in the cannabinoid CBD, known for its unique pain reduction and nerve conditioning properties.
Before being allowed to possess and consume the oil, patients must first obtain a prescription from a doctor. Ironically, because cultivation of cannabis, even for medical purposes, remains illegal in Georgia, families are forced to acquire the organic oil from states where it is permitted, like Colorado or California.
Despite these barriers to safe, local access, patients with the following conditions will be permitted to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil:
- Seizure disorders related to diagnosis of epilepsy or trauma related head injuries.
- Multiple Sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage.
- Parkinson’s Disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage.
- Sickle Cell Disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage.
Notably lacking from the list is arthritis, depression, PTSD, cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma, and migraines, among many other conditions.
Ironically, Haleigh Cox and her family had already moved out of Georgia, to Colorado, at the time of the bill’s passage. The Georgia natives made the move simply to give Kindergarten-age Haleigh ready access to the only medicine that decreases her more than 200 seizures per day.
After doctors told Haleigh’s mother, Janea, that her daughter might have only three months to live — and the child would regularly stop breathing (a side effect of her anti-seizure medication) — Ms. Cox decided to make the move to Colorado Springs. Now that possession and use of the seizure-reducing oil are legal in the Peach State, the family plans to move back.
Weak in Comparison
While certainly progress, other states, like California and Oregon, have much more liberal and less restrictive medical marijuana laws in place. Patients in these states are allowed to grow, smoke, and consume a variety of forms of raw cannabis flowers (buds), hash, kief, oil, tinctures, and edibles.
Georgia’s law in also unusually strict in terms of requiring advanced forms of certain diseases. For example, the law allows the administration of cannabis oil only for “severe or end stage” levels of Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
Many medical marijuana advocates will be frustrated that serious conditions, like early-stage Parkinson’s, aren’t covered by the law — especially considering that some research has pointed to the power of cannabis medicine to stop the progression of diseases like Altzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.
Better Than Before
However, the relief delivered to patients of all ages by this law is unquestionable. While it doesn’t provide a convenient means of production or access to the oil, the legislation gives patients like Haleigh Cox, who have tried other, more conventional pharmaceutical drugs and therapies, a new lease on life (and, in some cases, literally life itself).
There’s plenty of room for improvement in this law — such as the inclusion of several conditions that are standard in many other states — but Georgia’s newfound leniency toward medical cannabis is no doubt a positive sign in a state not known for its progressive social policies.