The Alabama legislature on Wednesday voted to decriminalize the possession of medicinal marijuana oil.
Jody Mitchell, whose son Robert has epilepsy and autism, was in tears as she watched the bill pass with a 95-4 vote in the House of Representatives and a 29-3 vote in the Senate.
“I dropped to my knees and I thanked God,” said Mitchell. “I called Leni’s mom; we were stunned.”
The legislation, nicknamed Leni's Law, follows a similar bill in 2014 that established a cannabidiol oil medical study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Certain federal regulations led to restrictive qualifications for the study, disqualifying many potential candidates and leaving many families still struggling for relief.
Leni Young, the legislation's namesake, suffered a stroke in-utero and was diagnosed soon after birth with an epilepsy condition and a rare form of cerebral palsy. Multiple medications helped rein in hundreds of daily seizures, but rotted the toddler's teeth and made her lethargic.
After Leni was turned away from the UAB study, the Young family moved to Oregon where she could legally access CBD oil. The Youngs continued to advocate for CBD oil decriminalization alongside a community of Alabama families seeking improved "quality of life" for their children.
"Our daughter was alive before, and she's living now," said Leni's mother, Amy Young, in a phone interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday night. "She just giggled in my lap."
"She's progressed further than we were ever told was a possibility for her," Amy Young said. "I can't wait to watch our friends' children progress."
Some of those friends include Brandi Goodridge, of Henagar, who previously thought she would be forced to move out of state to get her son the medication he needs.
Because doctors couldn’t record his seizures on an EEG, 17-year-old Ethan Goodridge was among the many whom previous laws had left behind.
Goodridge said since he was three months old he’s suffered from seizures so severe any one of them could take his life. An hour-long seizure once left Ethan paralyzed on his left side for nearly 24 hours.
Goodridge said they have tried almost every medication she has access to, with little success. Further, the side effects of the drugs have been “horrific.”
“Once he sat for a week and rocked back and forth, screaming,” said Goodridge. “He’s grown male breasts because of these medicines; some cause liver damage, some death.”
Now, however, Brandi could have the opportunity to try alternative treatments on her son.
She said she is thankful she and others like her finally have a choice in what they give their children.
"This is an opportunity to give some sunlight to families," affirmed Sen. Paul Sanford, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. "They don't want to feel like criminals, but they know they need to try something like this."
Though derived from cannabis, cannabidiol doesn't cause a high, like marijuana, due to reduced amounts of the psychoactive property tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Proponents say it can help alleviate severe seizures, among other conditions.
Mitchell said the bill could potentially help families struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Chrome’s Disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
At a public hearing in March, a pediatrician speaking on behalf of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said she believes 3 percent THC is too potent for children's developing brains.
Goodridge said it’s the pharmaceutical seizure medication she worries about.
“Often it’s adult medication that we’re giving our children; that’s what causes brain damage,” she said. “That’s a proven fact; what’s never been proven is that THC harms brains.”
Dr. Shannon Murphy said physicians are also concerned with the medicinal use of non-FDA regulated products.
Goodridge said she felt both of these concerns stemmed from misinformation.
“These are lab-tested, quality oils; we have to have them tested,” she explained. “Why would any mother give it to her child if it’s not tested and quality-controlled?”
In the Senate Wednesday, two legislators said the legislature was overreaching its expertise.
"I believe this is far too experimental," Republican Sen. Phil Williams said. "It's not matured to a point where the legislature should be acting on it. We're basically standing in the shoes of doctors by saying it's the right thing to do."
Goodridge said, while Williams’ concern is valid, no one is asking him to do that.
“We’ve discussed this with our own doctors; we’re not going behind their backs and working around them,” she explained. “My son’s doctor is who recommended I move to Colorado for this medication.”
Republican Sen. Dick Brewbaker, himself a parent of a disabled child, said he doesn't believe there are "severe" negative side effects for people with profound disabilities.
"If it gives people hope, some relief and just a sense that they're able to do something for their children, that's not a whole lot to ask of us," Brewbaker said.
Mitchell was emotional as she recounted the last several days and the experience she and other families from north Alabama had shared.
“We’re all a family; it’s rare to find someone who understands your life and what you’re going through,” she said. “For us, this isn’t anecdotal; this is real, and there’s science behind it.
“Hope is limitless now.”
Leni's Law now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley.