Michigan rejects medical marijuana for children with autism

Hands holding marijuana, a prescription bottle, over a prescription pad
News from Michigan

A state regulator blocked a petition August 27 that would have made Michigan the first state to specify that medical marijuana is legal for children with autism spectrum disorders.

“While the record is replete with sincere and well-articulated testimony on the potential benefits of medical marijuana to autism patients and, in particular, parents of autistic children, several troubling concerns remain,” wrote Mike Zimmer, director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, in a four-page Final Determination [PDF] letter.

In 2008, 63 percent of Michigan approved a ballot measure in support of legalizing medical marijuana. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel, which was created by the measure, voted 4-2 in favor of the petition on July 31.

In overriding the panel, Director Zimmer stated cited the “lack of scientific studies and evidence” of medical marijuana’s benefits for children with autism, an argument the petitioners attempted to rebut with dozens of peer-reviewed studies in their petitions, despite the federal ban on using federal funds for marijuana-related research.

Director Zimmer also expressed concerned that the petition is not limited to only “severe cases of autism,” arguing that the petition could open the floodgates to a significant expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program, alluding to numerous studies confirming the expansion of children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders nationwide.

Under the 2008 law, patients seeking certification for the medical marijuana program must have their petitions approved by two doctors. Nonetheless, Director Zimmer expressed concern that neither of these doctors are required to be trained specifically for treating children with autism.

The decision came as a disappointment to the petitioners, who began their campaign three years ago. The petition was brought by Lisa Smith, mother of a 6-year old with autism.

The panel rejected a similar petition in 2013. After initially denying Smith’s petition, Smith successfully sued to force the panel to reconsider the petition, leading to this summer’s developments.

“It’s a real disservice to all those parents who were hopeful that they could be protected to treat their children with autism,” Michael Komorn, an attorney representing Smith in the petition, told Michigan Live, likening the decision to “reefer madness” and suggesting that Director Zimmer does not understand the science behind medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. California and DC have the broadest laws, allowing for treatment for any condition deemed medically necessary by the patient’s doctors.