Views on medical marijuana changing, conferees say
Marijuana made a brief appearance in the national news cycle this week as pot enthusiasts lit up for their annual 4/20 celebration and Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa dropped his new “Wiz Khalifa’s Weed Farm” video game.
But the discussion took a more serious tone Friday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, as patients, providers, vendors and investors gathered for the ambitiously titled World Medical Cannabis Conference and Expo.
To the casual eye, it looked like any other conference, with rows of vendor booths interrupted by small gatherings as people sought further information. But the wares were an atypical mix, as firms offering high-security safes set up just a few steps away from flame-worked glass-fired pipes for smoking. Some people were dressed in suits and others in shirts from Sir Cannabis Apparel, which donates a portion of its sales to childhood epilepsy causes.
The co-hosts, Compassionate Certification Centers and Greenhouse Ventures, were expecting between 2,000 and 3,000 people for the two-day event featuring workshops ranging from cooking with cannabis, to product testing and quality control, to the legal ramifications of using marijuana to treat seizures, chronic pain and a host of other medical maladies.
Some of the more poignant discussions Friday centered on medical cannabis treatment for children, and families’ stories starkly illustrated why most states now have approved medical marijuana programs.
Janie Maedler of Delaware described some of the challenging day-to-day logistics involved with getting her daughter Rylie the medication needed to control her seizures during a routine school day.
Before the Delaware law allowed the treatment, Ms. Maedler said during a panel on the subject, the simple task of getting a cannabis oil capsule to her would mean having to pull her out of class and leave school property because the school nurse feared her license would be jeopardized if she administered it.
For her part, Rylie, 11, said she did not like missing class and she felt singled out socially. She’s also learning some adult worries at her still-young age. “When I get older,” she told a workshop audience, “I worry about getting a job because my medication is so expensive.”
The social aspects of medical marijuana use affected the rest of the family, too. As Rylie’s medical regimen became more widely known, Ms. Maedler said they lost some friends and gained others. “You start getting calls from soccer moms asking if they can have some of your child’s medication. It gets real interesting. That’s all I can say.”
Heather Shuker of Warrendale, managing director of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society, said her daughter Hannah Pallas, now 14, started having uncontrollable seizures at 4 months old — sometimes dozens a day — and cannabis oil treatments reduced her seizures by 65 percent.
Until Pennsylvania approved its medical marijuana program last year, “I had to be secretive” about treatments, Ms. Shuker said. “You definitely wouldn’t want to be caught, but nothing was going to stop me from giving that to her.”
Ms. Shuker recalled taking Hannah to testify before a state Senate committee considering a medical marijuana bill in January 2014 when her daughter’s seizures started before the hearing and she ended up in the hospital.
Similar stories of children who need or have benefited from medical marijuana have played a major role in swaying Pennsylvania legislators to support a statewide program. Among them was conservative Republican Sen. Mike Folmer, who has said he was convinced after meeting with parents of children with seizure disorders.
“No one wants to see a child suffering,” said Stuart Titus, a physiotherapist who has helped develop several cannabis and industrial hemp businesses. “Parents are desperate for anything that might help.” Mr. Titus is scheduled to speak at a noon session Saturday on children and cannabis.
One of Mr. Titus’ companies has developed a medical marijuana product that has shown promising results. It has only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient sought by recreational users, but has reduced seizures in some children.
Still shadowing the future of medical marijuana, however, is the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s classification of marijuana and its various forms as an illegal Schedule I drug with a high potential for abuse with “no accepted medical use in the United States.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he opposes expanding access to marijuana, telling reporters last month that he believes medical marijuana “has been hyped, maybe too much.”
Meanwhile, West Virginia this week became the 29th state to approve a medical marijuana program and 85 percent of respondents to a CBS poll released this week said they favor use of medical marijuana and 61 percent voiced support for legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
“The trend here is totally unmistakable,” said Mr. Titus. “The antiquated views are fading.”