Families with young children with epilepsy urge Ohio officials to legalize medical marijuana

By David Skolnick



Four local families with young children suffering from epileptic seizures urged state officials to pass legislation that would legalize medicinal marijuana to help treat their children’s medical condition.

Two of the families are moving early next month to Colorado. The use of oil from a strain of marijuana apparently has resulted in significant improvement to some children with epilepsy, according to an article in The Gazette, a Colorado Springs newspaper.

Hunter Shaffer of North Lima, 7-year-old son of Jeremy and Dana, has intractable epilepsy. He had his first seizure when he was 2, and has a seizure about every 10 seconds, his mother said Thursday.

The various medicines he’s taken have caused other health problems, and have left him with the mental capacity of a 3-year-old, Dana said.

“Hunter has been on numerous pharmaceutical drugs, has had a vagus nerve stimulator implanted without any success, and is not a viable candidate for surgery,” she said. “His body is deteriorating due to the pharmaceutical drugs. My son deserves a better quality of life. He deserves the chance to better control or stop his seizures.”

So the couple and their son are moving Jan. 2 to Colorado, leaving behind their family, friends, home and jobs.

“We want it legalized in Ohio,” Dana said. “These kids deserve a better quality of life. Let’s get this on the ballot next year.”

State Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, a longtime proponent of legalizing medical marijuana, and Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, had a roundtable discussion Thursday at the B&O Banquet Hall on Mahoning Avenue with local families who have children with epilepsy; Dr. Thomas E. Albani, a Canfield doctor; and John Pardee, president of Ohio Rights Group, which wants to get a medical marijuana initiative on the statewide ballot next year.

Hagan also said he will look at sponsoring a bill that would be more specific regarding the use of marijuana for certain medical use as well as seek funding for research on the impact oil taken from marijuana can have on those with epilepsy.

Hagan’s numerous efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the past have stalled in the state Legislature.

“If other people read stories about these kids and what medicinal marijuana can do for them, we can change people’s minds,” he said.

Schiavoni said he isn’t ready to commit to medical marijuana legislation, but the state needs to research its benefits.

“I never want Ohio to be a place where a guy with a headache can go someplace and get a bag of weed,” he said. “I want to look at specific conditions and specific medical issues.”

Opponents of medical marijuana have urged the Ohio Legislature to not legalize it for medical purposes, saying the drug is unreliable and filled with contaminants. They said at an event earlier this year at the Statehouse that legalizing marijuana is a bad idea and would allow widespread use of a drug that is unregulated.

The oil that is taken from marijuana doesn’t include delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, which causes people using pot to get “high,” Dr. Albani said.

Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

“It breaks your heart to understand there is treatment for these kids that can’t be used in Ohio,” Dr. Albani said. “Unfortunately, marijuana has a stigma attached to it,” but “medical marijuana is no different than any other drug.”

Amy and Jamie Houk and their son, Cameron, who turns 6 next week and has epilepsy, are moving to Colorado on Jan. 6.

“He’s on four medications and still has hundreds of seizures a day,” said Amy. “We consulted with doctors” all over the country and were told “the best option is to use medical marijuana. We’re leaving behind our families, our jobs — we’re leaving everything.”

The Houks live in New Castle, Pa., and have family in Youngstown.

“Our kid isn’t getting high,” Amy said. “He won’t be smoking it. It will be in liquid form. Hundreds of families are moving to states where marijuana use is legal.”

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