Congress May Answer (And Complicate) An Idaho Girl's Need For Epilepsy Treatment

Sep 22, 2014

There’s a bill in Congress that would legalize a marijuana extract to treat children with severe epilepsy. We’ve reported previously on plans to introduce a similar bill in Idaho’s Legislature.

The oil from the cannabis plant known as Charlotte’s Web has very low levels of the chemical THC that causes marijuana’s psychotropic effects. It’s showing promising results in preventing seizures, and some states that don’t allow medical marijuana, such as Utah, have passed exceptions for Charlotte’s Web.

Now, Congressman Scott Perry, R- Penn., wants it legal in every state.

Clare, Alexis and Michael Carey before Alexis was hospitalized in June.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Clare Carey is desperate for Rep. Perry’s bill to pass. Carey’s 9-year-old daughter Alexis suffers from debilitating, life-threatening seizures. They don’t respond to conventional treatments.

After a seizure that lasted three days, Alexis spent much of this summer in Boise’s St. Luke’s intensive care unit.

“They induced a comma. We had to shut her brain function down in order to stop her seizing. She had pneumonia, septic shock, she almost died,” Carey says. “And we have an opportunity. We have two U.S. Congressman in Idaho that can stand up for these kids and say ‘this is the right thing to do, I’m going to co-sponsor this bill.'”

Carey has been lobbying Idaho lawmakers to pass a law that would allow her daughter and other epileptic children to get Charlotte's Web. But it would be much better she says, if there was a federal law.

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador declined to give an opinion on the bill, and Rep. Mike Simpson did not respond to requests for comment. Their Democratic opponents, Shirley Ringo and Richard Stallings, say they would support a bill legalizing Charlotte's Web if elected.

The bill has 25 co-sponsors, Republicans and Democrats. But without a lot more sponsors it’s unlikely to come up for a vote on the House floor until early next year.

For Clare Carey, that’s more months of her daughter suffering. The delay may also complicate the issue because Idaho’s Legislature begins its session in January. Lawmakers who wanted to legalize Charlotte’s Web in Idaho, like Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, now have to decide if they’ll move forward with their plans.

“If the federal government acted through this legislation, it would probably be the most straightforward and easiest way to get things done,” McKenzie says. “But at the same time I’m not very confident in Congress’ ability to take decisive action.”

McKenzie doesn’t know if lawmakers who would have supported an Idaho bill will now want to wait and see what Congress does. Which could result in nothing happening locally or nationally.

On the other hand, McKenzie says maybe Congress talking about legalizing this oil will show Idaho lawmakers it’s a mainstream issue and make more of them willing to act.

Find reporter Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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