Indiana lawmakers on Tuesday heard testimony from medical experts and parents of children with severe epilepsy and other disorders, all who are pushing the state for access to oil derived from cannabis as a treatment.
Senate Bill 15, authored by Republican State Sens. James Tomes and Blake Doriot, would establish a hemp oil registry for the treatment of epilepsy “for certain physicians, individuals and caregivers for the use of hemp oil in the treatment of a child with intractable epilepsy.”
Tomes said the bill is designed to help parents who are “up against a wall,” and he stressed that it should not be confused as a first step to medical marijuana legalization in the state.
“I will not support medical marijuana,” Tomes said. “That one can’t be controlled. I want everyone to stay focused.”
The bill would establish a pilot study registry for doctors who want to study the use of oil in their patients. It would require the state health department to develop and maintain registries.
It would also provide civil, criminal and administrative immunity for physicians, and exempt caregivers and individuals from possession or use of hemp oil if registered by the state.
Doriot said his son had several seizures when he was young, including a 40-minute seizure where he was “stiff as a board.”
“This was the single hardest thing my wife and I ever had to deal with,” Doriot said.
The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law committee did not vote on the bill. Instead, committee chairman Sen. Mike Young said he wanted to “hold the bill” and get a group of lawmakers, experts and other states together to work on the legislation.
Supporters, some of whom were parents, say they are encouraged that the bill got a hearing at all.
Parent Lydia Hoops of Evansville has a four-year-old daughter with Dravet Syndrome, a rare genetic epileptic brain dysfunction. Hoops’ daughter is in a study for CBD oil, or cannabidiol, derived from one of many compounds found in the cannabis plant.
She said the improvements in her daughter have been noticeable.
“She is a completely different child,” Hoops said. “CBD oil does work for these children. I’m definitely proof of that. She has excelled so much developmentally. We have to start somewhere at this point.”
Parent Christina Hogue said she doesn’t want to have to leave Indiana for another state in order to get treatment.
“My son does not know what it’s like to sleep through the night without waking up four or five times with seizures,” Hogue said. “I ask you take the time to get something that would help these families. All these families here suffer daily. It’s the worst feeling in the world to know you can’t help your child that is reaching for you.”
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said she was encouraged by the discussion of the bill. But she pushed the lawmakers to broaden its focus, saying hemp oil and other products derived from cannabis could also benefit adults with other disorders and ailments.
Tallian has been pushing for the past several years for the medical marijuana legalization. But she said she is “happy we’re hearing anything that will open the door to this.”
“I don’t agree [with the bill] in that I think it’s too narrow,” Tallian said. “We don’t need to have this restricted to simply pediatric epilepsy.”
Lawmakers on the committee asked several questions about how law enforcement, including drug-sniffing dogs, would be able to deal with the issue.
Tomes said he hopes that doesn’t derail the discussion.
“I hope we don’t hang their hopes on the sensitivity of a dog’s nose,” Thomes said. “This is as close as we’ve ever been. Hopefully we can fine-tune this so it’s agreeable to everybody.”