COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio House Health Committee passed a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would add autism spectrum disorder to the list of conditions for which physicians can recommend medical marijuana.
House Bill 60 heads to the House Rules and Reference Committee, made up of House leaders who decide when and whether to put bills on the floor. Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Juanita Brent, a Cleveland Democrat, said he is optimistic the bill could get a floor vote in coming weeks.
“This is a good, bipartisan bill,” he said.
Fourteen additional lawmakers from both parties are co-sponsoring the bill.
Clevelanders, as well as people from across the state, have asked the legislature for help with alternatives for their children with autism when traditional pharmaceutical drugs do not help, Brent said. It is her second time sponsoring the measure.
Columbus resident Raymond Chandler III, a software engineer who is 36 and on the spectrum, testified to the committee Tuesday that at one time as a child, he had to take 14 psychotropic pills.
“I ask you, does pumping a kid full of pills in this way sound like medicine to you? Because, it sounds a lot like abuse to me,” he said. “It certainly felt like abuse to me when I was the 10-year-old getting pumped full of pills. Of the countless pills I was fed as a child, I never once believed or felt that it helped me.”
As an adult, Chandler uses medical marijuana legally for unrelated chronic pain, and it treats his autism. Chandler said he’s seen a decrease in sensory overload issues, fewer headaches and stomach aches and better sleep.
Carrie Beebe Taylor of Marysville has twin sons who are on the spectrum and have severe learning and speech delays, extreme hyperactivity and anxiety, sleeplessness and self-injurious and aggressive behaviors, she told lawmakers in March.
Each week, they receive 40 hours of applied behavioral analysis therapy, a common treatment for kids with autism, two hours of speech therapy and 30 minutes of occupational therapy. Her sons are working hard, but need help from the legislature, she said.
“Month after month, year after year, I see other states passing legislation to add autism as a qualifying condition,” she said. “Parents and children elsewhere are having these incredible breakthroughs and Ohio families continue to be left behind.”
Seventeen states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, include autism spectrum disorder as a qualifying condition in their medical marijuana programs.
In addition to Chandler and Taylor, other parents and advocates of neurodivergent Ohioans testified in favor of the bill.
“The Medical Board is failing us. We need to enact legislation,” states testimony submitted to lawmakers by Mary Alleger, a proponent of the bill, in March.
Alleger is referring to the State Medical Board of Ohio. Each year the board reviews petitions for new ailments to add to the list of qualifying conditions. Currently there are 25 conditions on the list. In 2019 and 2020, the board reviewed and rejected autism spectrum, leaning on the judgment of physicians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who oppose the drug, saying there is not enough evidence that children will be safe on marijuana.
In fact the only opponent to testify against HB 60 was Dr. Anup Patel, a board-certified neurologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, who ran the clinical trials for Epidiolex, a cannabis-based medication for seizures manufactured by the pharmaceutical company GW Research.
Patel submitted with his testimony a letter that he and other Nationwide physicians gave to the State Medical Board in Feb. 28, 2020 and Feb. 23, 2021. The letter stated that research on marijuana in kids isn’t performed to the “gold standard” of medical research — randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.
“The development of pharmacological agents typically involves several rigorous steps, including several pre-clinical, clinical and post-clinical studies across multiple phases before consideration by the FDA for approval in clinical use,” the letter states.
The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which makes it difficult for researchers to obtain and study.