Hemp Oil Enters Vt. Marijuana Legalization Discussions

In response to parents who have asked the judiciary committee of the Vermont Senate to help them access certain cannabis-based therapies for their children, committee chair Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, said language aimed at easing access to the supplements is now being drafted. The language would be added to marijuana legalization proposals already under consideration at the Statehouse, Sears said.

"We're looking at all aspects," Sears said of legislation affecting cannabis and marijuana regulation in Vermont. "We're trying to do everything we can to provide for a well-regulated, but at the same time, compassionate medical marijuana program in Vermont."

Shelly Waterman, a Burlington mother, said her nearly 14-year-old daughter Hannah appears to be benefiting from the use of a cannabis oil called Charlotte's Web.

Hannah, who has Rett syndrome, a degenerative neurological disorder, and also a severe seizure disorder called Lennox-Gastaut, takes small doses of the supplement two times a day. The oil is thought to calm certain brain activity without the psychoactive effects of marijuana, Waterman explained.

Hannah's mom said after the cannabis therapy, the teen is nearly 40 days seizure-free, after experiencing a long string of frightening seizures fairly commonly.

"It's absolutely life-changing," Waterman said of Charlotte's Web, noting she was speaking only for her family's personal experience with the hemp oil, and that she consulted extensively with Hannah’s physicians regarding its use.

However, Waterman has to have Charlotte's Web shipped from Colorado, because she said it is not manufactured or sold in Vermont's licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. Waterman said she wishes Vermont lawmakers could give her family and others easier access to the oil in Vermont.

"This is an important piece of the bigger picture," Waterman said of how therapeutic hemp oil considerations may fit into ongoing discussions at the Vermont Statehouse about recreational marijuana legalization. "Legalization will help Vermont grow an infrastructure in the medicinal community to be able to provide more therapeutic strains for people who have various ailments."

The primary purpose of the marijuana legislation steps under consideration is to regulate the sale of small amounts of marijuana through licensed retailers and lounges to people at least 21-years-old.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, has said he would only sign such a measure into law if taxes imposed are low enough to reduce black market sales, if revenues are put toward expanding addiction prevention efforts, if enforcement is strengthened, and if edible forms of marijuana are not allowed at first.

Sears said Wednesday that judiciary committee members penciled in a date for the proposed rules to take effect: January 1, 2018. Waiting until then would enable communities, law enforcement, and prevention groups to prepare for the changes, Sears said.

As lawmakers debate the pros and cons of the marijuana legalization proposals, public health advocates are urging them to be mindful of potential side-effects.

"I think the public health burden for the state of Vermont is going to increase, and the tax revenues eventually will be far less than the cost to the state," warned Bertha Madras, a Harvard Medical School neuroscientist.

Madras cautioned lawmakers to consider impacts on adolescents' developing brains, and on the potential for marijuana experimentation to lead to overuse and mental health problems.

Thursday, the Vermont Medical Society, the Vermont Academy of Family Physicians, the Vermont Psychiatric Association, the Vermont Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter, and the American College of Physicians Vermont Chapter are scheduled to express their strong public health concerns to Vermont lawmakers.

Those concerns include risks of vehicle crashes, impacts on academics, and the worsening of future mental health problems, according to a media release announcing the Thursday morning press conference.

The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Friday morning on whether or not to advance marijuana legislation, Sears said.

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