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Families Testify for Medical Marijuana

January 23, 2015

By Victoria Zawitkowski
Capital News Service 

Lisa Smith comforts her daughter as Haley suffers a seizure during the hearing.

Lisa Smith comforts her daughter as Haley suffers a seizure during the hearing.

RICHMOND – Haley Smith, 14, suffers from a rare disorder called Dravet syndrome, similar to epilepsy. In the middle of a hearing being conducted by the Senate Committee for Education and Health, she suffered a mild seizure in her sleep. Her mother, Lisa Smith, stroked the girl’s forehead until it stopped.

Minutes later, Smith addressed legislators: “This is normal for me. This is Haley for me.” Smith went on to ask senators to provide relief to Haley and other Virginians suffering from various diseases — by approving a law authorizing the medical use of marijuana.

The Smiths were among four families who presented emotional testimony Thursday in support of Senate Bill 1235, which would allow doctors to prescribe Cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil to people suffering from epilepsy.

Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, is the bill’s chief sponsor. He said many states have even broader laws regarding medical marijuana than SB 1235 would provide.

“Virginians shouldn’t have to become medical refugees in other states to be able to survive and have a high quality of life,” Marsden said.

One such refugee family was the Collinses of Fairfax: Beth Collins, her husband and their two daughters. Jennifer, one of the daughters, suffers from seizures. Beth and Jennifer Collins had to move to Colorado – and leave the rest of the family behind – so that they could obtain the THC oil that helps Jennifer manage her seizures.

“We’d exhausted all other treatments,” Beth Collins said. “The side effects of her medication included rages, cognitive functioning issues, depression, weight gain and ovarian issues, to name a few. Her rages, caused by her medication, had gotten so bad that on several occasions I had to call 911 to help me subdue her.”

Collins said that in Colorado, the oil, which was administered three times a day under Jennifer’s tongue, dramatically improved her quality of life. They have since moved back to Virginia to reunite the family. Doctors in Northern Virginia treat Jennifer with lorazepam, but it causes side effects, including hallucinations.

Linda Rhoden, whose 3-year-old daughter Lucy also suffers from Dravet Syndrome, said cannabis can be used as a treatment without getting her daughter high.

“Medical cannabis won’t change her behavior. It will help her control her seizures and let her be herself,” Rhoden said.

During the hearing, some members of the Senate Education and Health Committee asked questions that reflected concerns over the legal ramifications of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Marsden addressed those concerns. “Just about any medication we get, over the counter or with prescription, can be abused,” he said, citing certain nasal sprays and cough drops as examples.

The committee did not vote on the bill at Thursday’s meeting, but the panel could do so as early as next week.

Two House bills – HB 1445 and HB 1605 – also would allow the possession and prescription of marijuana for medicinal purposes. They are pending in the House Courts of Justice Committee.