— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A Huntsville legislator is workng on changes to a bill that he hopes will persuade the Senate to approve the use of marijuana oil to treat children's seizures.
Republican Sen. Paul Sanford of Huntsville and other advocates plan today to unveil the changes for the bill known as Carly’s Law, which Sanford said should ease some concerns about the measure he has proposed.
Sanford's bill was on the Senate's work agenda Thursday, but the Senate broke for the weekend without getting to it. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he expects it to be back on the work agenda when the Senate resumes work this afternoon.
Families with children suffering from frequent seizures due to epilepsy have been visiting the Legislature for two months in an effort to emphasize the potential good marijuana oil can do and to dispel fears about its legalization.
Owens residents Kari Trisch Forsyth and her husband, Jeremiah Forsyth, are among the local families that have been making the five-hour round trip to the Statehouse. The Forsyths’ 8-year-old daughter, Chesney, suffers from seizures and has underwent brain surgery.
A press conference for the bill’s supporters is planned at 1 p.m. prior to today’s legislative session, according to Kari Forsyth.
Greg Gibbs of Madison has been pushing his granddaughter's stroller along the halls, introducing 19-month-old Charlotte Dalton to legislators and explaining that she has a form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. Because of that, she suffers frequent seizures.
Charlotte’s mother and Greg’s daughter, Gina Gibbs Dalton, is an East Limestone High School graduate who resides in Madison.
“Each seizure causes brain damage, so we are fighting the clock,” he said.
Gibbs' family wants to be able to treat her seizures with a marijuana plant extract called cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil. Sanford's bill and similar legislation offered in the House by Republican Rep. Mike Ball of Madison do not legalize the oil, but give patients and their caretakers a justifiable defense if charged with drug possession. Those in possession of the oil would have to have written proof of a diagnosis such as a seizure disorder.
Gibbs said the evidence he has seen from other states where the oil is available has convinced him it would reduce his granddaughter's seizures significantly and keep her from suffering brain damage.
He said the oil is produced from marijuana that is grown to be low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive substance in marijuana.
“It can't get anybody high,” he said.
Gibbs tells people the legislation has nothing to do with a broader medical marijuana bill that has been introduced this session or with recreational marijuana. “There is marijuana pot and then there is miracle marijuana,” he said.
Barry Yarbrough of Haleyville is also walking the halls, but without his 14-year-old granddaughter, Allie Swann. Her parents moved her from Haleyville to Colorado last fall to be able to use the marijuana oil to legally treat her epilepsy. “She probably wouldn't be alive now if not for going out there,” he said.
Sanford said the biggest challenge his bill faces is legislators' concerns about voting for anything pertaining to marijuana in an election year when their opponents might use it against them.
Yarbrough said he understands legislators' concerns, and he was skeptical until he saw the change in his granddaughter.
“She has never gone two or three days of her life without a seizure. She went 21 days without a seizure and her motor skills have improved,” he said. “We were hoping for a 10 percent change. We are at 60 percent.”
If Sanford's bill passes the Senate, it would still have to be passed by the House and signed by the governor. Ball's bill has not yet been considered by the House.
—Reporter Kim West contributed to this report.