Tennessee set to legalize medical use of marijuana oil to treat child seizures
Closeup of marijuana bud (Shutterstock)

Cannabis oil used for medical purposes is on course to become legal in Tennessee after a bill passed on Monday evening aimed mainly at helping children with uncontrollable seizures.

Legislators in the state house of representatives and senate unanimously passed a bill allowing limited use of the substance and the legislation now awaits approval from the Republican governor, Bill Haslam.

Parents of young children with severe epilepsy and similar conditions that cause them to have multiple seizures almost daily hugged and wept as the bill was passed.

It allows restricted use of cannabis oil on doctor’s orders, extracted and processed to remove almost all of the psychoactive ingredient, THC, that normally produces the “high” associated with the drug.

“It’s life-changing. It’s life-saving, I’m speechless,” said Tennessee resident Stacie Mathes, whose one-year-old daughter Josie suffers from seizures that have defied medical efforts to treat them.

Josie’s plight partly inspired the bill. She was diagnosed at two months old with intractable epilepsy and her mother says her development is being severely hampered by her condition and by being “doped up” on ordinary prescription medication that, she said, is ineffective.

The new law would not allow the medicinal oil, known as cannabinoid oil, to be produced or bought in Tennessee.

It is currently illegal for anyone even to bring the product into Tennessee from other US states – but if Haslam signs the bill and patients have the correct paperwork from their doctor they will be allowed to buy the oil from the numerous states where various forms of cannabis are legal for medical use and bring it back for home use.

State lawmakers passed a similar bill in Georgia last month, which the governor, Nathan Deal, has indicated he will sign.

The final passage of the bill in the legislature was watched by five-year-old Haleigh Cox and her mother Janea. Some dubbed the bill “Haleigh’s Hope”. The girl’s family now intends to move back to Georgia, having lived for the past year in Colorado, where cannabis is legal and parents who take their sick children there to take advantage of derived medicinal products have become known as “medical refugees”.

There is widespread anecdotal evidence of marijuana’s effectiveness in tamping down childhood seizures.

The federal government still classifies all forms of marijuana as a “schedule one” drug, giving it the same official risk level as heroin and deeming it to have no medical benefit.

But the government does not enforce the law in states that have voted to legalise cannabis at some level and strictly regulate it.

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