A new campaign to legalize medically-beneficial marijuana extracts kicked off this week, led by thousands of parents whose children are in desperate need of treatment for seizures and other health issues.
Advocates are coalescing behind the Coalition for Access Now, an organization “led by families committed to educating the public and lawmakers on the health benefits associated with natural therapies derived from cannabis for chronic health conditions.”
The group’s initial focus is to promote a bill in the House of Representatives called the Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act, which would make certain varieties of marijuana easier to acquire for medical purposes.
The measure is named after Charlotte Figi, an 8-year-old girl whose uncontrollable epilepsy was successfully treated with cannabis oil after numerous pharmaceutical interventions failed.
“We’re not trying to do something fringe here,” Charlotte’s mother, Paige Figi, told The Huffington Post. “This is a human rights issue. This has been lifesaving for my daughter.”
Charlotte was treated using cannabidiol, or CBD oil, a non-psychoactive concentrate. To avoid exposing children to the high or stoned sensation normally associated with marijuana, growers breed special strains of the plant that are low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
In order to make CBD more widely available, the Charlotte’s Web bill would remove cannabis that contains less than .3 percent THC from the federal definition of marijuana, so it would no longer be banned.
All types of marijuana are currently listed under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, categorized as drugs of abuse with no medical value, even though the National Institute on Drug Abuse, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and President Obama have all acknowledged the beneficial medicinal uses of cannabis.
Currently 23 states plus Washington, D.C. allow medical marijuana, while an additional 13 have granted patients limited access to CBD. However, the complex web of state laws as well as the federal ban mean that acquiring and using CBD is still complicated and difficult in many states even where it is legal.
The Charlotte’s Web bill would alleviate many of the obstacles. Even staunch conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania have signed on as co-sponsors.
A separate measure, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansions and Respect States (CARERS) Act, is also under consideration from both branches of Congress. That bill would push marijuana off Schedule I entirely, freeing states that pursue medical legalization from the threat of federal interference.
Charlotte Figi’s story is one of remarkable success. Before she tried CBD oil, Charlotte was sometimes stricken by hundreds of seizures per day. Now she is “99.9 percent seizure-controlled,” her mother told HuffPo, and “walking and talking and going to dance class. It worked.”
After her story was shown on the 2013 CNN documentary Weed, hundreds of families who live in states where marijuana and CBD are still illegal flocked to Colorado to treat their children.
Others, like 6-year-old Sophia Nazzarine, are still blocked from treatment because they live in states like Ohio, which still categorically prohibit cannabis and all its derivatives.
As evidence continues to show that children like Charlotte and Sophia can get relief from seizures by using CBD oil, it becomes harder to justify 1980s-era War on Drugs policies that deny medicine to people in pain. It’s one thing for politicians and law enforcement officials to demonize marijuana by invoking a stereotypical image of stoned slackers toking up in the basement. The prohibitionist position is much harder to defend when the lives of children are at stake.