Mom joins fight for legalization of medical marijuana in Virginia

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by Velma Scaife, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on June 2, 2014 at 6:24 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 3 at 7:45 AM

WHITE STONE, Va. -- Colorado and Washington state have recently legalized marijuana for recreational use.  While 19 other states permit medical marijuana, it's still illegal in Virginia. 

But some believe legalizing medical marijuana is gaining momentum with lawmakers in Virginia. 

Several groups in the commonwealth, including Safe Access Virginia and Virginia Parents for Medical Marijuana, are trying to get more support for medicinal cannabis.  

Lisa Smith of White Stone, Virginia has a child with Dravet Syndrome, a type of epilepsy. Her 13-year-old daughter, Haley, has seizures several times a day. Last year, she had 800 seizures.

Scientific research has found that marijuana can give people who suffer from epilepsy some relief.  Smith wants to see if it can help her daughter. 

"We are not looking for something that's going to make her high.  This medication we're looking for is not something she would smoke.  It's an oil that ingested, derived from the marijuana plant," said Smith.

Haley stopped developing around the age of three and has been on more than 21 different medications.

"Our neurologist told us there's nothing left for her to try. All of her medicine is at its highest level," says Smith.
  
T.J. Thompson is chairman of the Safe Access Virginia Steering Committee to legalize medical marijuana. The Navy veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to his experiences during the Persian Gulf war.  He says marijuana is the only thing he has found to help him without adverse side effects.  

"On Xanax and similar prescription drugs, I'm just going to go to sleep," says Thompson. "I can function on medical cannabis.  As long as I get [marijuana] in my system at least once every 24 hours."
      
Lt. Governor Ralph Northam is giving his support to legalizing medical marijuana.  Northam is a doctor practicing pediatric neurology and says he's comfortable moving forward on medical marijuana for the treatment of epilepsy.

"A lot of our medication comes from plants," Northam explained.     
      
Northam is concerned about children who have intractable seizures that haven't responded to other medications and says he plans to write legislation for the 2015 General Assembly session. 

"At the end of the day, we just want to do what's best for these families and give them another option for treating their seizures," Northam said.  
   
Thompson hopes lawmakers will approve the use of marijuana for a broader range of illnesses.

"General Assembly members are more supportive of medical ideals right now and listening to their constituents based on their medical needs."   
 

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