A bill that would allow Coloradans with autism to use medical marijuana cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.
The bill — sponsored by state Reps. Edie Hooton, a Boulder Democrat, and Kim Ransom, a Littleton Republican — would add autism spectrum disorder to the list of conditions that qualify a patient to receive a medical marijuana card with a doctor’s recommendation.
Neither bill sponsor has a child with autism, but both invoked parenthood when introducing the bill.
“What compels me to bring this bill to you is the suffering these families endure,” Hooton said.
“For me, this is a parents’ rights issue,” Ransom said.
The bill, which passed the health committee 10-1, would also drop the requirement that children seeking to use medical marijuana receive a diagnosis from at least one primary care pediatrician, physician or psychiatrist. A family would still need at least two doctors to sign off on a child having a “disabling medical condition.”
The lone no vote was state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, the vice chair of the committee and a physician. The Adams County Democrat unsuccessfully lobbied for an amendment that would have required at least one primary care physician to weigh in before a child started using medical marijuana.
“My primary concern is these decisions are being driven outside the medical home,” Caraveo said.
This isn’t the first time the Colorado General Assembly is considering the legislation. Last year, a similar bill passed with ease. However, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, citing concerns from medical professionals, vetoed it.
Gov. Jared Polis, then a gubernatorial candidate, said at the time he hoped to sign the bill into law.
— Jared Polis (@PolisForCO) June 6, 2018
The hearing stretched into the evening with more than four hours of often-emotional testimony.
Parents of children with autism and advocates for medical marijuana told lawmakers at the bill’s hearing that they see the treatment as their only option.
Margaret Terlaje said before her son started taking medical marijuana the medicine her child’s doctor prescribed for his autism didn’t work. It also made her son drool, she said.
“He will always live with me, and I will always take care of him,” she said. “He’s a very special boy.”
Wendi Carter also spoke about her hopes for medical marijuana in treating her son with autism.
“We’d like a chance to see if this will improve his quality of life,” she said.
About one in 59 children are diagnosed with autism.
Like last year, the state’s medical community voiced opposition.
“We don’t have enough evidence right now,” said Dr. David Downs, a former president of the Colorado Medical Society.
Other opponents, including Jeff Hunt, executive director of the conservative Centennial Institute, urged caution.
“We’re experimenting,” Hunt said. “It should be done in the confines of the FDA … not the general population.”
It’s clear Colorado legislature believes marijuana is harmless. No problem allowing doctors to prescribe high potency pot to kids with autism. No research it works, lots of research it harms young brains.
— jeffhunt (@jeffhunt) January 24, 2019
Melissa Atchley, another mother who testified, said she didn’t care about a lack of medical evidence.
“As a mom, I want my child to stop beating his head against a wall,” she said.
Colorado is studying the effects of medical marijuana on autism. The study, which is being paid for by marijuana tax dollars, was commissioned by Hickenlooper after he vetoed last year’s version of the bill.
The new bill now heads to the House floor for debate.