Bill aims to legalize use of cannabis oil by suffering Tennesseans

Acquire DigitalNews

Sporting a pale pink helmet and flanked by her faithful German shepherd, 5-year-old Cora Vowell looks ready to hop on a tricycle, or maybe go barreling headfirst into a backyard football game.

But Cora cannot ride her bike or play sports.The helmet is part of her everyday outfit, protecting her head against the nine to 12 seizures that batter her body each day. Her German shepherd, Hulk, is a therapy dog, trained to alert Cora’s parents when the seizures start.

Brought on by an accident more than a year ago, those seizures are a constant in the family’s life — so frequent that her mother, Melissa Vowell, doesn’t even break conversation as she swiftly reacts to one of her daughter’s brief episodes, holding her close until it passes.

But just because the Vowells have grown familiar with Cora’s epilepsy doesn’t mean they feel OK with it. They aren’t OK with her not knowing her ABCs. Or her steady intake of psychoactive drugs, which make her sleep through most of the school day but don’t do much to relieve her seizures. They want more options.

That’s why they are trying to bring momentum to one Tennessee group’s 11th-hour efforts this legislative session to make cannabis oil legal for treating conditions like epilepsy. Physicians have told the Vowells that the oil could minimize Cora’s seizures.

“It’s heartbreaking to have to tell your child that she can’t go play on the jungle gym or do karate like the other kids do,” Melissa Vowell said. “It’s just hard to explain to her, when she asks you to take the pain away every day.”

The bill, introduced and sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, and Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, would allow marijuana to be grown, manufactured into medical products and sold to Tennesseans of all ages who suffer from a handful of debilitating medical conditions including epilepsy, terminal cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

Document: Medical marijuana bill HB1284

The most recent draft of HB1284, which seeks to legalize medical cannabis.

The investment group pushing the legislation, called TennCanGrow LLC, was started late last year by Murfreesboro health care attorney Ted LaRoche.

“We see this could be life-changing for many people,” said LaRoche, who hopes to form a cannabis production company if the bill is passed. “It’s a business opportunity for us, which allows us to focus on what is reasonable and doable when it comes to getting legislation passed. But it’s a business that could help people.”

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