- Published on Wednesday, 05 August 2015 22:46
Last Friday a panel came in with a resounding 4-2 vote recommending that children with autism should qualify for Michigan's medical cannabis program. It’s a huge step forward for medical cannabis, as state physicians and families have worked tirelessly to highlight the benefits of using cannabis to treat children with severe autism.
It's not time to celebrate just yet, though.
While the Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Review panel voted in favor of the recommendation, the final decision now stands in the hands of the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, who has until late October to issue a judgment.
Some medical experts still aren’t convinced that there’s enough research showing long-term effects from children consuming medical marijuana. A Detroit-based publication quotes Michigan’s chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, who said, "These things are things we do not know until we have enough experience with these medications in a controlled trial. ... I don't think we have those checks and balances."
On the other side of the argument, Dr. David Crocker, another member of the panel, disagrees: “We have a pretty good checks-and-balances system," he said. Crocker believes the system is well-established and takes suitable precautionary measures since two doctors must provide approval for a child to receive access to medical cannabis.
No matter the opinion, the panel’s recommendation is a powerful statement decision makers can’t ignore. If autism gets approved as a qualifying condition, Michigan will be the first state to allow medical cannabis treatment for children with autism, granting a much-deserved win for many families and medical experts.
Stay tuned as the decision will be made by October of this year.
Michigan Medical Cannabis Panel votes to add Autism Treatment to State Law
The Michigan Medical Marijuana Law Review Panel voted Friday to recommend adding autism as a qualifying condition fit for treatment under the state law.
That recommendation now heads to Mike Zimmer, director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, who will have final say in adding autism to the law.
The review panel voted 4-2 in favor of a petition submitted by Lisa Smith, a Michigan mother who has said cannabis oil has helped improve her severely autistic 6-year-old son's behavior, sleep patterns and eating schedule.
"The parents I've talked to are passionate and adamant that this represents a dramatic improvement in the quality of life for them and their affected children," said David Crocker, a medical marijuana doctor and member of the panel.
Autism would be just the second treatable condition added to Michigan's medical marijuana law since voter approval in 2008. The panel, which was initially disbanded and reformed because members had not been appointed properly, voted to add Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder last year.
The two members who voted against adding autism to the medical law cited concerns over the effect of marijuana on the developing brain, which they said could outweigh the potential benefits for autistic children.
"Palliative care, I understand immensely," said Dr. Ronald Bradley, chief of psychiatry and professor at Central Michigan University's College of Medicine. "What I don't understand, in terms of child or adolescent development, is what harm we're going to do."
David Brogren, a non-physician member of the board who voted for adding autism, pointed out that children can only use medical marijuana in Michigan if they receive recommendations from two doctors and a parent serves as their caregiver.
The same panel rejected an autism petition in 2013 in what had been called a final decision. Smith's petition was initially denied by LARA, but she successfully sued to force reconsideration.
Attorney Michael Komorn, who represents Smith, said her petition included hundreds of pages of research on autism and medical marijuana that was not included in the 2013 debate.
Smith's son was certified to use medical marijuana because he also has epilepsy, which is already a treatable medical condition under the law.
"Otherwise, she would not have been able to get a recommendation from her doctor to see the benefits that it had on autism," Komorn said. "She's heroic in that she came forward and was able to tell her story so that this could happen."
Smith was not able to attend the hearing, but several parents with autistic children were present. Carolyn Gammicchia of Shelby Township, who said her 23-year-old son would have benefited from medical marijuana as a child, broke down crying when the result of the vote was announced.
"I have hope now," said Gammichia, noting that her son bit her and knocked out her front teeth when he was younger. "I can say, when they voted yes, it was just such a relief."