Many are wary about expansion of medical marijuana, a substance often characterized as a drug of abuse.
However, there is a human side to this conversation, one that often involves the most vulnerable of our friends and neighbors.
My son Caleb is 11 years old, and has been subjected to daily seizures since he was 3 months old. For him, a form of medical marijuana has been a godsend.
I hope his story can offer hope to parents who are desperate for new treatment options, and encourage action from our elected representatives.
For years we tried everything to get Caleb’s seizures under control. Despite consultations with multiple doctors and countless medications, his condition never seemed to improve.
Yet we never gave up hope, and eventually we learned that parents facing similar circumstances had turned to cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive oil extracted from marijuana.
This substance was banned in Iowa, but pressure from many patient-advocacy groups and concerned parents like me led to 2014 legislation that permitted access to CBD.
But even though it was made legal to possess and administer, there is still nowhere in the state where it can be obtained. This leaves parents in an impossible situation where they must consider breaking federal law to obtain CBD from out of state.
Fortunately, we were recently able to get Caleb enrolled in a CBD study at the University of Iowa.
Before being accepted, we had to keep a log of Caleb’s seizures for 30 days; we recorded upwards of 40 incidents in that time.
During the first several months of the study we did not know whether Caleb was receiving CBD or a placebo. His seizures continued.
In September the study transferred to open label, and Caleb was given CBD orally twice a day. Shortly thereafter, Caleb’s seizures stopped and have not returned.
This study has been a blessing for Caleb and our family, but the situation in Iowa is still far from ideal. We have to make the 2½-hour drive from Mason City to Iowa City regularly to obtain Caleb’s medicine, which luckily we do not have to pay for.
Those not involved in this study still have no way to obtain CBD in the state. They must travel elsewhere travel and pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for an adequate supply.
More must be done to make important treatments like CBD available to patients and their families here in Iowa and across the nation.
The main barrier to access continues to be the illegality of any marijuana-derived treatments under federal law.
The CARERS Act, which was introduced in the Senate earlier this year, seeks to allow patients who comply with state medical marijuana laws legal access to all substances and therapies prescribed by their physicians.
The bill would also remove several barriers that prevent research into the benefits medical marijuana could provide to patients like Caleb. To be clear, this bill does not force changes on any state, it simply protects those following state law from the threat of federal prosecution.
Unfortunately, the CARERS Act cannot proceed through the legislative process until it is brought up for consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee by its chairman, our own Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Thus far, Sen. Grassley has declined to give the bill full consideration despite the fact that 15 of his Senate colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors.
I urge Sen. Grassley to give this important bill a chance, and help give families like my own the opportunity to access every medical therapy that can improve the lives of those they care about.
— Cassie Helland is a mother of three boys and lives in Mason City.