The Medical Marijuana Fight Hits Virginia

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The debate continues about whether or not to legalize medical marijuana.

The Collins family (left) and the Rhoden family (right) are working for medical marijuana to become legal in Virginia.

This is just some of the medicine that Lucy has to take

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- The debate continues about whether or not to legalize medical marijuana. Not just across the country, but in Virginia as well.

It's an issue impacting many families, including one here in the Valley.

Two families, both with roots in Virginia, find themselves at the center of the debate. Fighting against lawmakers and government agencies to change the medicine their children receive in order to save their lives, each using a form of medical marijuana.

She can light up the room with her laugh and is so full of energy that sometimes you can miss her running around the house. Lucy Rhoden is like most toddlers; she can even name every Disney character in her toy chest, but at any given moment, her world can freeze.

Since she was a baby, Lucy has suffered from seizures. Some last for minutes, while others for hours.

"I worry everyday this is the day she is going to die. I worry every time she has a seizure, this is going to be the time she isn't going to come back from it," said Melissa Rhoden, Lucy's mom.

Shortly after her first birthday, Lucy was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome, forcing her to take six different medications to try and control her seizures and handle the medicines' side effects. Those effects include both loss of appetite and insomnia.

"It seems like every time we have to get her a medication we get a new Lucy. I do not know if I have ever got to know the actual child that is mine," said Rhoden.

Rhoden said oil from a marijuana plant, Charlotte's Web, could save Lucy's life. It contains such low levels of THC that doctors say Lucy couldn't get high.

Eight months ago, Jennifer Collins' mother moved her from Virginia, leaving behind her father and sister, to Colorado, so she could try medical marijuana. The purpose of the move was to reduce the number of seizures Jennifer was having, which, on average, was 300 a day.

"It shouldn't be so hard to treat your child to get your child the medical care they need. It just shouldn't be such a struggle. We shouldn't have to separate our family," said Beth Collins, Jennifer's mother.

Through five months of taking Charlotte's Web, Jennifer has experienced 85 to 90 percent fewer seizures. Her mother said she is improving and has regained her ability to remember things; something she lost while on normal medication, taking 14 pills a day.

"We do think it is good. It has been a mixed thing though because Jennifer herself has said you know, 'I will take the seizures. I want to go home,'" said the elder Collins.

Medical marijuana is classified a Schedule I drug, the same category as cocaine and methamphetamine. Back in 1979, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law allowing marijuana to treat cancer and glaucoma; however, federal laws prevent anyone from prescribing, possessing or transporting marijuana into Virginia.

Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith recently put forth legislation to make marijuana a Schedule II drug, which would remove it from the "not currently accepted" medical use category and allow research on it and also let doctors prescribe it in states where you can legally have it, like Virginia.

"The bill doesn't go as far as Colorado or Washington might want it or the crazy California plan as I often call it, but it allows real doctors with real distributors control by and under the laws by the united states to use true marijuana in a real way medical way," said Griffith at a hearing.

"Everyone has a different opinion about what is appropriate," said Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who believes marijuana is a dangerous drug.

"So I do not think a solution on this would be to legalize marijuana. And with regards to medical marijuana there are no studies out there that support any finding that medical marijuana helps with any illness of any kind that is not already helped by medicine," said Goodlatte.

The view about medical marijuana could change, especially after new information coming out of a Capitol Hill hearing with the the Food and Drug Administration.

"Marijuana contains compounds to provide important new treatments for important diseases and rigorous studies are need to look at their potential and where appropriate deliver new drugs for use by Americans," said Dr. Doug Throckmorton, the deputy director of regulatory program for the FDA, at the hearing.

Through the drug approval process, the FDA is performing an analysis on medical marijuana to make an appropriate recommendation to the drug enforcement agency about rescheduling marijuana.

"It has got to be the year, it has been too long. It is 2014," said Rhoden.

These two families hope to change the opinion of lawmakers with every picture and letter to have the drug rescheduled sooner rather than later. The wait for the next drug or medication could mean the difference between a normal life or death.

"There is no waiting for 2015, 2016? Dravet Syndrome lost 14 children last year," said Rhoden.

Medical marijuana is debated not only on Capitol Hill, but in our community as well. Here's what you thought when asked if medical marijuana like Charlotte's Web should be legalized?


Watch part of the FDA's hearing on the administration's policy on marijuana:


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