CINCINNATI (WKRC) - As Ohio prepares to fully legalize its medical marijuana program, Local 12’s Duane Pohlman uncovered an oversight in the new law that may prevent children from accessing the medicine they need to prevent and control seizures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 3.4 million adults and 470,000 children suffer from epilepsy and seizures in the United States, and research is revealing that marijuana is an effective medicine when it comes to stopping seizures most commonly associated with epilepsy.
In June, for the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug made from marijuana. That drug, Epidiolex (cannabidiol) [CBD] oral solution is now legal to treat patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.
THE FACE OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA
Three years ago, Addyson Benton was prominently featured in non-stop television ads for the failed Issue 3 campaign with her mother, Heather Benton, explaining how medical marijuana had stopped her daughter from having thousands of seizures a day.
“Now, Addyson only has a few seizures a day,” Heather explained in the 30-second spot.
Since cutting the commercial in Colorado, where the family had moved to legally continue Addyson’s treatment, the Bentons moved back to the Tri-State. Addyson is now 7 years old and her treatment includes medical marijuana placed in patches on her wrists and feet, as well as oil that’s rubbed on her skin when her mother catches the onset of seizures.
But Addyson, like all children who suffer from seizures, must have the medicine every hour of the day, and for most children who suffer from seizures, a good part of their day will be spent inside our schools.
After reviewing Ohio’s new medical marijuana law, Local 12 uncovered an oversight that could soon prevent children, like Addyson, from receiving medical marijuana when they’re at school.
In the language of the new Medical Marijuana Control Program law that was passed in 2016, but has not yet been fully implemented, there is no mention of allowing children who are approved to use medical marijuana to bring their medicine to school.
The Patient Rights section of the law does allow patients to “use” and “possess” marijuana, but the phrase, “Notwithstanding any conflicting provision” makes the matter murky for schools that have well-defined no-drug policies.
A staff member at Ohio’s Legislative Service Commission, which researched the law before it passed, confirmed the issue of children bringing medical marijuana to school is not spelled out and will likely lead to confusion, at best. At worst, it will prevent children with seizures from accessing their medical marijuana or not attending school because they can’t access the medicine they need.
NO POLICY YET
Local 12 reached out to the third largest school district in Ohio, Cincinnati Public Schools. While medical marijuana has been looming on the horizon since the new law passed two years ago, CPS Spokeswoman Fran Russ said the district was not aware of the issue and that the school board had not yet begun to address developing a medical marijuana policy.
OHIO FAR FROM ALONE: ASHLEY’S STORY
While it's unsettling to discover that students may be prevented from getting access to the medicine that prevents and controls seizures at school, Ohio is far from the first state to deal with the issue.
In Illinois, marijuana was banned on school premises, including medical marijuana. That changed when a family from Schaumburg, Illinois, began to fight for that right.
Twelve-year-old Ashley Surin, who survived leukemia as a toddler, had been living with unrelenting seizures every day. Traditional medicine helped, but her parents say the side-effects were debilitating. Then, the Surins turned to medical marijuana.
“Gone!” Maureen Surin exclaimed while sitting at a park bench, adding Ashley began to come alive, engaging in the world around her.
But when the Surins tried to take Ashley’s medicine to school, they were denied.
“They said, 'Sorry, we can’t help you,'” Maureen explained.
Marijuana was still illegal, even though Ashley was fully qualified under law to use it as a medicine.
“SQUEAKY WHEEL FAMILY”
The Surins sued in federal court and a judge issued an injunction, allowing Ashley to access the medical marijuana, but their fight wasn’t over.
The family traveled to the capitol in Springfield where they began to convince lawmakers that a new law was needed to allow students, like Ashley, who qualify for medical marijuana, to take it on school premises.
When asked what happened, Ashley’s father, Jim quickly answered, “Maureen happened and I happened and,” gesturing to Ashley, “she happened.”
“We were the squeaky wheel family," Maureen added.
When asked if she talked to lawmakers, Ashley answered shyly, “Yeah.”
After many talks with the Surins, Illinois lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed in May to support it.
“People dropped their Republican and Democrat garb and they actually worked and crossed it out together collectively to make this happen,” Jim Surin observed.
In August, the bipartisan effort came to a crescendo when Illinois governor Bruce Rauner signed the bill into what is now known as “Ashley’s Law.”
When asked if she was proud of what she accomplished, Ashley smiled and uttered a simple, “Yeah.”
So, even as Ohio’s medical marijuana program continues to be plagued with arrests, questions and high anxiety, students across the Buckeye State can take solace in the fact that one young girl in Illinois fought for what was right and won.