Rita Wooten hopes drugs derived from cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating extract from cannabis plants like marijuana or hemp, allows her 4-year-old son Eli to lead a normal life.
A large plastic bag filled with various prescriptions meant to treat Eli’s severe epilepsy laid in front of her at Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee meeting.
“I just want a normal 4-year-old at home,” she said after Senate Bill 124 unanimously cleared the committee.
Wooten described a travel regimen that included 25 trips to Cincinnati from the family’s home in Hyden last year, including five by plane, at a cost of between $7,000 and $8,000. Eli, who cannot communicate verbally, was admitted to the hospital 17 times, with the longest stay spanning 12 days, she said.
“It’s taken a toll on all of us, our entire family,” Wooten said, noting Eli has not tried cannabidiol. “Not just me or my daughter or the rest of our family; it’s devastating to all of us. Who in their right mind wants to keep a little boy that’s 4 years old and has six types of seizures? Honestly, no one.”
SB 124 would allow cannabidiol to be prescribed through the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville or in clinical trials approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Sen. Julie Denton and other supporters, such as Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said the measure would provide relief for children who suffer debilitating epilepsy.
Deb McGrath, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana, said national trials through New York University and the University of California have shown promising results thus far. Cannabidiol drugs are readily available in Europe, she said.
“We know that this drug is working and it is giving hope to those families that have utilized every opportunity to treat their child,” McGrath said.
SB 124 would be the first law in Kentucky allowing the medicinal use of cannabis byproducts. But opponents of legalizing medical marijuana say the General Assembly’s potential approval of SB 124 is not an indication that lawmakers are ready to embrace wider medicinal use of the illicit substance.
Westerfield said he remains reluctant to legalizing the medical use of marijuana based on his experiences as a prosecutor.
“I’ve prosecuted DUI homicides where impairment due to marijuana caused the death of someone,” he said.
Denton, R-Louisville, said she is “thrilled for the children and even the adults” who may benefit from using the substance. The bill was a long shot, she said, but lawmakers have taken their time in vetting SB 124, which has received broad bipartisan support.
The bill, in Denton’s opinion, does not open the door for further legalization of medical cannabis.
“There is no psychoactive properties to this whatsoever,” she said. “You can’t get high. This is simply something that has the ability to help with seizures. It may help with autism. There are numerous things this could be helpful for.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he expects his chamber will move swiftly in approving SB 124, which cleared the Senate by a 38-0 vote. The speaker has acknowledged a willingness to study medicinal marijuana after constituents in his eastern Kentucky district said the substance could help treat autism.
“I think that debate obviously got some legs this session and needs to,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “I’ve told you, I think all of you, I’ve got constituents in my district who have kids who have autism who believe and swear that there is medicinal relief found for those children, and to me, that testimony makes it worth looking at.”