In Michigan, residents are permitted to submit medical conditions to LARA (the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs) in order for the Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel to review whether there is ample evidence that cannabis may offer palliative relief in the treatment of that condition. It is the voter’s intent to protect those with debilitating medical conditions that may receive palliative relief from cannabis. When the panel is provided sufficient evidence, it is their mandate to ensure that new medical conditions be added to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis.
In 2012 Jenny Allen, the mother of an autistic child, petitioned LARA to include autism as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis. The review panel ultimately voted 7-2 against the approval. Panel members suggested that there wasn’t enough peer-reviewed research that indicated potential benefits of cannabis in the treatment of autism.
A new, thoroughly researched petition to add autism to the list of qualifying conditions has been submitted by Lisa Smith, also the mother of an autistic child. On May 27, this petition was accompanied by over 75 peer-reviewed articles with over 800 pages of research on the issue of cannabis as a viable option for the treatment of autism. Personal testimony in support of the petition was provided by 19 families, as well as physicians from Michigan and around the country.
The testimonies from families that were submitted to the panel were compelling and heart wrenching. Lisa Smith stated: “I’ve been at the end of my rope trying to help Noah and everything failed him. Everything except cannabis … He was biting himself, pulling his hair, he would ram his head, that’s all stopped.”
This sentiment was echoed by family after family at the hearing.
According to Dr. Lester Grinspoon, 40-year professor emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School: “Marijuana is the drug of choice these days for symptomatic treatment of autism. If I had an autistic child, I’d be right there with these parents figuring out his strain and dosage”.
“It works!” adds Dr. Chugani, Chief of the Pediatric Neurology department at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
The individuals who have delved the deepest into the science behind autism’s riddling labyrinth of theories are, without doubt, Joe Stone and Dr. Christian Bogner, clinical Professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Michigan. They were able to provide peer-reviewed evidence that cannabis not only has the potential to provide palliative relief of symptoms related to autism, but may also have the potential to target the underlying causes of autism itself.
“What we have presented to the review panel is not only demonstrating safety, but also clear benefits. I want them to feel confident about their vote. Michigan needs to defend good science and remain on the forefront of scientific research and progress. Those parents want the best for their children. They are not satisfied with what conventional therapies offer. Don’t prosecute them for that choice. It is un-American!” explains Dr. Bogner.
Despite what can only be described as overwhelming evidence, LARA, the agency tasked with addressing petitions for new conditions, refused to hold a hearing or even consider the petition. This stonewall position forced attorneys Michael Komorn and Tim Knowlton, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association and Cannabis Patients United to sue LARA in the Ingham County Court. It was only after nearly a year of litigation and foot-dragging that LARA ceded its position. Attorney General Bill Schuette's office "defended" LARA's position by delaying the case for months, only yielding after the petitioner filed her brief with the court, days before oral arguments. Unfortunately it seems the lives of children and parents hang in the balance of a possibly disinterested and dysfunctional process controlled by LARA.
To oppose the treatment of autism for patients afflicted with the disease is inhumane and medically unethical. To allow the status quo to remain intact and subject parents and the physicians who treat these children with exposure to arrest and criminal charges is a deplorable policy. There is overwhelming scientific and medical evidence supporting the approval of the petition. Additional peer-reviewed evidence has been provided in support of the use of cannabis as a treatment for autism, more than all of the other ten conditions submitted currently on the registry submitted previously.
There is often overlooked duty of the MMMA: its purpose is to protect seriously ill persons, who have been recommended to use cannabis with a doctor's recommendation — in this case two doctors — and a bona fide doctor/patient relationship, from arrest and prosecution.
There should be no debate that those afflicted with autism are seriously ill. The purpose of the law, and the compassion shown by Michigan voters in approval of the law, was to protect parents, patients and physicians. For the panel to rule not to recommend that autism be approved as a condition of the program is to ignore their duty and responsibility.
Cannabis policy is often politicized – and one of propagandists’ favorite tools is grandstanding that their concern lies in the “protecting of children.” In this case, this issue is genuinely about the children. The only thing issue that should be under consideration is the overwhelming evidence that cannabis can provide a safe alternative to the traditional medications and treatments currently used for those afflicted with it. The history of the administration generates only cautious optimism that autism will be approved as a new condition. Meanwhile, parents and doctors live in fear of criminal liability.