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Medical marijuana: Possible new hope for sick children

CREATED Feb 3, 2014 - UPDATED: Feb 3, 2014

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BURLINGTON - For six year old Lydia Schaeffer , just walking up the stairs is a challenge. Lydia was diagnosed with a rare chromosome and seizure disorder when she was just a baby.

Her mother Sally says in Lydia's younger years she only seized about once a year. But that all changed. Lydia started having many more, mostly during the night - having seizures nearly 80% of her sleeping hours. They tried new medicines, which worked, for a while, but the seizures returned--both day and night. Doctors discussed brain surgery. But the success rate is only 50%.

"As parents it was a heart wrenching discussion, and walking away from it and thinking that that's one of our only options is extremely hard," Sally recalls.

Sally then heard about a different option: Medical marijuana. She contacted a doctor in Colorado who uses an oil known as 'Charlotte's Web'. It's named after a girl, Charlotte, who suffered for years from seizures. Charlotte's Web is a strain of cannabis low in THC and high in cannabidiol, or CBD. It provides the relief without making kids 'stoned' in the sense that many people think of marijuana.

"Over 300 children are being treated and almost all of them are seizure free. So it is successful, it is happening, it is working," Sally explains.

Since the family can't move to Colorado, she would like to see Wisconsin legalize medical marijuana.

Senator Jon Erpenbach co-authored Bill 363 late last year. It would establish a registry for persons who are sick to apply for medical marijuana use.

"The more I saw a couple of other states legalize it for medical purposes, the more I thought, 'Ya know, I'm the last person to look them in the eye and say, ya know, I have a vote on this but I'm not going to vote for it because I just don't believe ya.'"

The bill never got a committee hearing though. Senator Leah Vukmir, who is the chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services, didn't allow it. She gave us a statement saying in part, "The bill is supported by the vocal minority in our state… My personal opposition to the bill is rooted in my belief that the FDA is the proper entity to approve new drugs."

Sen. Erpenbach adds, "Every once in a while the legislature just doesn't get it, and eventually they will."

Representative Robb Kahl hopes a more limited approach is the answer. He recently proposed a bill which would only cover children suffering from seizure disorders. "We've got children in this state that need this as a medical option, and that's what we're doing, but they are still going to have to work with their treating physician to decide if that's the best option them."

Time is of the essence. The current legislative session ends in a few weeks. They won't be back until next year.

Kahl says, "It's not a political or partisan issue. It's a humanitarian issue in my opinion."

In the meantime, Sally will continue fighting for her daughter's life. "I'm running out of time for her," she pleads.

Representative Kahl's bill still needs to be heard in committee, and get through the House and Senate. At this point nothing has happened.

A recent poll by the Marquette Law School found 50% of people in Wisconsin in favor of full legalization of marijuana. In 2005, a study done by the Chamberlain Research Project found nearly 76% in favor of medical marijuana.