Not everyone, however, is fully on board.
Inspired by stories from the families of children with epilepsy, a New Jersey state Senate committee passed a bill this week that would make it easier to obtain medical marijuana for young patients.
Medical marijuana was legalized in the state in January 2010, and registration for the medical marijuana program first opened in August 2012. However, no children have qualified for the program.
Under New Jersey’s medical marijuana laws, an adult only needs one recommendation from a doctor to be able to buy marijuana from a dispensary. Children, on the other hand, need recommendations from multiple physicians — including a pediatrician and a psychiatrist.
Those requirements put the drug out of reach for 2-year-old Vivian Wilson, a New Jersey resident who has a rare and potentially deadly form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome.
Vivian’s parents tried to get her into the medical marijuana program at the recommendation of her neurologist, who told of them of the success such treatment had for children with Dravet syndrome. In Colorado and California, marijuana has been shown to help reduce seizures and allowed patients to cut back on the amount of other prescription drugs they had to take.
However, the Wilsons were unable to convince a psychiatrist that Vivian should be in admitted into the state’s medical marijuana program.
Brian Wilson, Vivian’s father, said he tried finding a psychiatrist to sign the consent form along with her neurologist and pediatrician, but says the stigma associated with marijuana use has made finding a psychiatrist very difficult.
What’s in the bill?
The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 on Thursday to pass the bill, which would reduce the number of medical recommendations needed for a child to qualify for the medical marijuana program.
The New Jersey bill would also legalize medical marijuana in a wider variety of edible forms. Unlike many adult patients, pediatric medical marijuana patients often ingest marijuana by taking a capsule or consuming marijuana that has been mixed with food.
“My 2-year-old old daughter is not going to smoke marijuana,” Wilson said.
The New Jersey Health department currently allows edible marijuana only in the form of lozenges, which are a choking hazard for young children, Wilson said. Wilson says he wants access to a liquid form of marijuana that has been proven effective in other states.
A third component of the bill would allow dispensaries to grow more than three strains of marijuana. Varying strains of marijuana have different levels of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, and as a result have different effects. For example, some strains are good for nighttime use because they make the user sleepy, while others are good for daytime use because they keep the user alert and awake.
Not everyone on board
But the committee’s vote didn’t come without a fight from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Medical Society of New Jersey, who urged the committee to delay a vote on the bill and come up with different options.
Fran Gallagher, the executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that medical marijuana is “more potent” than pot “obtained through other channels.” She added that “pediatric patients must be more highly scrutinized than adults.
“The appropriate dosing for children is not yet well-established,” she said.
Jennie Stormes of Hope Township, N.J., says her 14-year-old son, Jackson, also has Dravet syndrome. He, too, has been unable to qualify for medical marijuana use in New Jersey. Stormes says Jackson has had access to marijuana only when staying with his father, who lives in California.
According to Stormes, Jackson has tried dozens of medications and undergone brain surgery. However, nothing has had the same “amazing” effect as marijuana — fewer and shorter seizures, longer attention span and improved speech.