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Medical Marijuana Refugees and the Sickness of Prohibition

A vendor points out the variety of marijuana for sale at the grand opening of the Seattle location of the Northwest Cannabis Market, for sales of medical marijuana products, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. The market hosts nine permanent vendors for seven-day-a-week sales, as well as a number of daily vendors of a variety dried medicines, edible products and starts. Voters in Washington state last fall passed Initiative 502, which legalizes the recreational possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and calls for the creation of state-licensed pot growers, processors and retail stores. Recreational marijuana sales are expected to begin late this year, and in the meantime, the state’s medical marijuana industry continues to operate. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)


Medical Marijuana Refugees and the Sickness of Prohibition

A British family has moved to the Netherlands so their son can access cannabis medicine for his epilepsy. That may sound like good news, but it’s symptomatic of the now global issue of medical marijuana refugees.

The United States (and the world) is home to a patchwork quilt of prohibition: What’s easily accessible for a cannabis patient in one state can be an expensive, legally perilous hassle to find in another. Federal prohibition makes transporting cannabis medicine from one state to another risky, so if you aren’t in a state with MMJ-friendly laws and safe access, your options are limited.

This situation has created “medical marijuana refugees,” people who migrate to states with medical cannabis — particularly Colorado — to access quality medicine. But this problem isn’t just limited to America’s 50 states, it’s also a global phenomenon, as evidenced by the story of five-year-old Alfie Dingley, whose family moved from Warwickshire, England to the Netherlands in search of safe, legal access to the cannabis medicine that helps Alfie’s severe epilepsy.

From Metro UK:

His parents, Hannah and Drew, believe that cannabis oil will help but could face jail if they carried out the treatment at their home in Warwickshire. Hannah gave up her job in the travel industry to become his full-time carer. She said ‘Alfie is deeply affected by the drugs he is given.’ The IV steroids Alfie takes when he has a cluster of seizures have serious side effects. They are toxic and cause him to be very aggressive.

The story has generated public sympathy and an outpouring of support in the form of donations, which the family is collecting to fund the move. That’s great news for Alfie and his family. The problem is, when it comes to kids with severe conditions that cannabis can help heal, not all the children are Alfies; some are just kids with serious illness, expensive medicine and unfriendly laws in their hometown.

Cannabis medicine isn’t cheap, and because of federal prohibition, in many places medical marijuana isn’t generally covered by health insurance. That means many families who discover cannabis medicine are generally on their own when it comes to footing the bill.

Elsewhere in the British Commonwealth, in Australia, Bethany Edwards — a “poster child” for medical cannabis in that country — is unable to access the only effective treatment for her epilepsy because of prohibition.

From Buzzfeed:

Bethany used illegally sourced cannabis oil for 12 months, and her seizure activity decreased dramatically. However Bethany is no longer taking the oil after her mother became worried about the multiple raids and arrests surrounding the drug.

Karen and Bethany have visited multiple doctors who told them Bethany’s condition was not severe enough to warrant medicinal cannabis.

“So, what is?” Karen asked BuzzFeed News. “My daughter has brain damage [from seizures]… what does her condition need to be?”

But just packing up, quitting jobs and leaving town is not an option for all families. And even when families are able to make the trip to a legal country or state, their journey is only beginning.

From the Denver Post:

No agency thoroughly regulates the treatment providers, beyond basic licensing. No rules govern the right formulation or dosage of the marijuana extract at the core of the treatment. No studies conclusively document the side effects… A handful of organizations have sprouted in the past couple of years to offer support to parents moving to Colorado and those already here… But, when parents arrive with little more than a desperately sick child and a hope to make it better, they walk into uncharted territory. They become part of a medical experiment that plays out in living rooms, not doctors’ offices.

The bottom line is, particularly in the states where federal prohibition limits medical research and treatment, many doctors are uncomfortable with or simply unable to help patients seeking information and access when it comes to medical cannabis.

Rather than celebrating and promoting “marijuana migration,” safe access advocates should continue fighting to ensure safe and sane regulations that allow national — and ultimately global — access to cannabis medicine.

TELL US, have you crossed state lines to secure cannabis medicine?

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