YUKON, OK — All too often in the debate about reforming marijuana laws, politicians and police officers ask the tired question “what will happen to our kids if we legalize medical marijuana?” One family in Oklahoma is now asking the same question, but in a new context — they want to be able to give it to their 7 year-old autistic son.
Gill and Catherine Mejias love their 7 year old son Deacon, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Hearing that a child has autism can be a devastating experience, because there is no cure and there is no standard therapy, but the Mejias family would like to be able to treat Deacon’s autism with medical marijuana.
The Mejias family has tried a long list of doctor prescribed medications, as well as alternative treatments. Nothing has worked. Prescription medications make Deacon have mood swings, hyperactivity, and deep depression. They said Deacon can’t get the help that he really needs because it’s not legal yet in Oklahoma.
Autism has caused Deacon to become aggressive, anxious, and uncontrollable at times. When Deacon is not in school, swinging is one of the few activities that keeps him calm. The Mejiases have had to install swings in every room of their house to keep Deacon occupied and content.
“It’s like crisis mode all the time just trying to make it through the day, and that’s no way for any of our children to live,” says Deacon’s mother, Catherine.
“Quality of life is what it boils down to and he deserves to be able to enjoy life, to have a smile and have fun and all the things that make life, life,” Gill Mejias, Deacon’s father, added. “Deacon is trying to reach out to the world but because he can’t relax and focus, he can’t understand.”
Even though they are confident medical marijuana could be just what Deacon needs, the Mejias, a law abiding family, said they are only willing to treat Deacon with medical marijuana if it becomes legal in Oklahoma, adding that moving to another state will be “our only option” if the state legislature doesn’t legalize medical marijuana.
“I just want to give it a try, I’m willing to try anything for him,” Catherine said.
Last year, State Senator Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) introduced Senate Bill 573, the Compassionate Use Act, which would remove criminal penalties for possession and cultivation of marijuana from patients and caregivers who cultivate marijuana for a patient’s medical use upon a doctor’s recommendation.
Legalizing medical marijuana in Oklahoma is an uphill battle, however. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has gone on record saying that she will veto any legislation endorsing medical marijuana, even if Senate Bill 573 were to pass, and that doesn’t sit well with Sen. Johnson.
“I think the people who want to close their ears and don’t want to hear about it, [saying] ‘I’ll never vote for it,’ that’s not what we are here to do as elected officials,” says Sen. Johnson. “We are here to be the voice for the people.”
Other politicians, like State Repesentative Dr. Mike Ritze, disagree, saying that treating children with pot is risky business. “I can’t condone it,” Dr. Ritze told KFOR-TV. “I can’t disagree if they say it works, but I would advise them that they’re dealing with a double-edged sword.”
The Autism Research Institute, however, reports that marijuana has significantly lessened symptoms such as anxiety, aggression, panic disorder, tantrums, and self-injurious behavior in many autistic children, and the Mejiases are certainly not the first family that have wanted to treat their children with medical marijuana.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Public Health, the state has four minor children enrolled in their medical marijuana program as of December 2010. One of those children is the son of Marie Myung-Ok Lee, an award winning author who teaches at Brown University. In a three-part essay written in 2009 and 2010, Lee writes about the treatment of her then 9 year old son with his special cannabis cookies.
“The more I’d been reading, along with [his] doctor, about the effects of cannabis—analgesic, anti-anxiety, safe—the more it seemed a logical choice,” Lee wrote about her decision to try medical marijuana for her son in lieu of sedating, antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal—Thorazine for kids.
At first, her son’s doctor prescribed Marinol, an FDA-approved drug which contains a synthetic cannabinoid. The Marinol helped her son for a little while, helping his behavior improve at school. But like many patients who have been prescribed Marinol, her son began to build up a tolerance for the synthetic, and her son’s aggressive behavior returned. Shortly thereafter, Lee asked her son’s doctor for medical marijuana recommendation, and he became the state’s youngest licensed patient.
Sometimes, however, a doctor’s recommendation isn’t enough, even in the 16 states that allow medical marijuana.
In 2009, a single mother in California, Debbie Jeffries, was using medical marijuana to treat her son, who was eight at the time. Despite medical marijuana being legal in California, Child Protective Services took Debbie to court accusing her of being an unfit mother and putting her son at risk. In a closed court hearing, it took less than an hour for a juvenile court judge to dismiss the charges.
In the Jeffries case, as with most children receiving medical marijuana, parents bake the medicine into cookies, brownies, and other edibles in lieu of having them smoke it.
For Deacon Mejias, medical marijuana may some day hold the key to being able to enjoy life. Until then, the Mejias have become one of a growing number of families that are waiting for lawmakers to make a decision while young lives hang in the balance.