Colorado Governor Tosses Medical Marijuana Bill That Would Benefit Autistic Patients


By Sean Lally, Staff Writer

At the beginning of June, John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado, vetoed three bills, bringing the total for 2018 to nine vetoed measures.

Perhaps most controversial is a bill that would have allowed kids with autism spectrum disorder to use marijuana medicinally. The governor thought the legislation was too radical, saying it would encourage marijuana-use among the state’s youth. "If we sign that bill we end up, without question, in some way encouraging more young people to look at this as an antidote for their problems," he said.

In vetoing the measure (House Bill 1263), the governor ordered state health officials to carry out a study on the effects of marijuana on autism. Opponents missed their chance to overturn the veto, as the governor submitted his decision at the end of the 2018 legislative session.

List of Conditions

If passed, the bill would have added autism spectrum disorder to the list of conditions that are legally treatable by medicinal cannabis. That list includes the following: HIV/AIDs, post-traumatic stress, glaucoma, cancer and illnesses with particular symptoms.


State Senator Steve Fenberg, of Boulder, sponsored the bill and did not agree with the governor’s decision: "I think it’s unfortunate," he said, continuing, "I think there are a lot of families that it would benefit. The reality is the traditional pharmaceuticals aren't always the right choice for these kids, either."

"This is not for people who have just a little bit of Asperger (syndrome) or something,” he added. "This is for people who have kids who at the end of the day are hurting themselves. It's not a justification to be able to smoke pot. It's genuinely about medicine to help people. And there's science behind it."


Fenberg wasn’t the only one hoping for an affirmative signature from Hickenlooper. Leading up to the veto, families with autistic children convened outside the governor’s office, waiting to see what the state leader would do.

Michelle Walker was one of those people: “We ask that the governor help our children. Our kids are dying. We can’t wait another year.” Walker’s son has autism, and prior to the veto, she used marijuana to control his seizures.

This is precisely what Suzeanna and Matthew Brill did earliest this year, before they were carted off to jail on misdemeanor charges in Georgia. The Brills’ 15-year-old son, David, suffered seven to 10 seizures every day. After trying every possible method, the Brills decided to grow a cannabis plant and give their son doses of marijuana. The result? His seizures ceased for 71 consecutive days, and according to Matthew, the father, “[David’s] speech and motor coordination improved, he completed homework and chores, he was able to focus […] We were thrilled to have him healthy and happy.” However, in the state of Georgia, it is still illegal to use marijuana except in certain medical scenarios – and where medicinal THC is concerned, it’s very difficult to find in the southern state.

Walker saw similar effects when she used marijuana to treat her autistic son’s seizures: “He’s now seizure free, and that’s very exciting, but it has also been life changing for his autism as well.”

Lack of Studies

Thanks to years of federal prohibitions on marijuana, the drug has been very difficult to study. However, there have been some suggestions from scientists that marijuana could be effective for treating seizures. Dr. Igor Grant, of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego, put it this way: “I don’t mean we should rush out and give marijuana to everyone who has epilepsy […] but I think that there are probably epilepsies that would benefit from an alternative treatment if they’re not controlled by our usual treatments.”

Cannabis is medicinally available for autistic patients in 10 states (and Washington DC). Those states are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, California, Minnesota, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and DC.

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