Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel Postpones Vote On Cannabis For Autism, Parents Upset Over Why

Some parents of children suffering from severe forms of autism headed to Lansing on Monday to show their support of medical cannabis to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel before their vote. Supporters of medical marijuana protection for children with severe autism claim that oil extracted from the plant has been effective at controlling severe physical behavior that is sometimes seen. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel was to vote on whether or not to recommend it to the director of the Great Lakes state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). Though the decision ultimately will be left in the hands of the director of LARA, a vote of support from the Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel would have been an exceptionally positive achievement for the drug’s supporters.

Cannabis oil for autism supporters were left in limbo Monday though, as the panel opted to postpone the vote until the end of the month. Though some parents, like Dwight Zahringer of Clinton Township (who told a CBS reporter that he drove 100 miles from the Motor City to the capitol) were reportedly frustrated, the delay might signal good news for marijuana parental activists hoping to get childhood autism added to the list of conditions that could legally be treated with marijuana under Michigan’s law. The panel delayed their vote so that they could thoroughly review the hundreds of pages of research into medical marijuana as a treatment for autism before making a decision on what to recommend to the director of LARA.

During a public hearing that was held in May, most people spoke in favor of adding autism to the list of conditions that would warrant the right to use marijuana medicinally. PTSD is the only condition that has been added to the list by LARA since Michigan voters opted to pass the medical marijuana law in 2008, but that doesn’t mean it is an impossible feat. It is true that autism was denied as an approved condition when the panel was petitioned in 2013, but reports indicate the primary reason for the denial two years ago was lack of substantiated evidence. This time, the evidence is said to be almost overwhelming.

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On Monday, when the vote was scheduled, the research that was submitted by the petitioner had not been provided by LARA to the panel. Since the evidence is paramount to reaching a vote that is favorable to the parents imploring the panel, panel member David Brogren asked for the delay. According to the Detroit Free Press, Brogren uses medical marijuana to treat his multiple sclerosis and is familiar with the science of cannabis. Brogren says that he notified the state officials two weeks ago that the members had not received the submitted evidence. He says that he was assured by LARA staff that the documents would be added to the packets that the panel members were to receive, but claims they never were. Thankfully for the petitioner, Brogren was given a copy by the petitioner’s lawyer.

“I brought in this thick pile of documents that they still hadn’t given to us,” Brogren explained, “and I tossed it on the table.”

After the first parental petition was denied two years ago, another Michigan mother petitioned LARA this past May for the right to legally treat her autistic child with cannabis oil. This time, the petitioner was accompanied by 19 family testimonies, 75 peer reviewed articles, and an entire team of physicians who say there is a clear link between the endocannabinoid system and autistic symptoms. These doctors claim that cannabis oil could offer real comfort to children with autism and help with behavioral issues after other medications have been unable to ease suffering.

LARA spokesman Michael Loepp claimed that they provided enough information in the packets, but that Brogren wanted all of the reference materials to be included. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette strongly opposes medical marijuana and originally tried to block the May petition. Given the earlier opposition to the petition, many in Michigan are accusing the Michigan AG of intentionally obstructing the evidence in its powerful entirety from being read by the panel.

If the petition to add autism as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana use is approved, Michigan could be the first state in the Union to offer cannabis oil as a legal alternative to man-made pharmaceutical medication for children suffering from extreme pain or physical behavioral problems.

Some members of the team supporting the petitioner include Dr. Christian Bogner, board certified physician from the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, 40-year Professor Emeritus at Harvard Psychiatry, and Dr. Chugani, Chief of the Pediatric Neurology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. These experts and many more all urged the Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel to approve autism as a qualifying condition for children in the State of Michigan.

[Photo credit: Brian Charles Watson]