Colorado may be among the pioneers in the cannabis industry, blazing a trail for recreational blazers, but the medicinal cannabis program took a hit recently when Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would have made autism a qualifying condition. For those who are affected by autism – or love someone who is – the veto was a difficult reality to hear. For those in the marijuana industry, the veto was largely nonsensical, with many people questioning what era we are living in: 2016 or 1996?
Still, it wasn’t exceedingly surprising given that Hickenlooper has never been a huge supporter of Mary Jane. He was originally against it, a stance laden in irony given that he rose to prominence peddling alcohol, a drug far more dangerous than little old weed.
His stance has softened in recent years, going from anti to a stance mired in vagueness but somewhat accepting. Maybe this is because he is unsure of how he truly feels. Maybe it’s because recreational legalization has been hugely beneficial to the state’s economy. And maybe it’s because he’s gearing up for a presidential run and doesn’t want to alienate any potential voters by taking a side on such a controversial issue.
For those in support of the autism bill, his reason is irrelevant.
When interviewed by the media, Hickenlooper gave various explanations for this decision. He stated,
“I haven’t seen a pediatrician yet who thinks it’s a good idea to sign this bill. I might be wrong, but my understanding is the Autism Association has not come out in favor of this bill. Their neutrality speaks volumes.”
The Autism Association plainly saying they are against the bill would have spoken volumes. Their neutrality does not. Rather, it suggests they don’t want to get involved in an issue that is contentious. If they were “voluminously” against the bill, it seems they would have said as much.
Hickenlooper was on a veto roll when he vetoed the Autism Bill; it was his third one of the week. He also vetoed another marijuana bill, one that would have allowed for cannabis tasting rooms. And, unrelated to cannabis, he vetoed a bill that would have prevented autopsy records from the public’s view.
The Effects of the Decision
The group Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism is, as the name makes obvious, a group of mothers who campaign to make medical marijuana a reality for autistic children. Some, like the founder Michelle Walker, even moved to Colorado specifically to access marijuana. Walker noticed that her son’s autism improved when he was given cannabis for his epilepsy. Thus, the organization was born.
The autism bill sailed through Congress with bipartisan support – the vast majority of Congress lent their voices in a melody of “yays.” That makes it particularly disheartening that one man alone can negate a bill so many other elected officials agreed with, but that is the power of the veto. The Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism made a trip to Colorado’s capital with their children in tow, hoping to convince Hickenlooper to sign the bill, their efforts valiant but not enough to change his mind.
They even met with him, a closed-door meeting where they shared their personal stories and presented scientific evidence that backs cannabis as a formable treatment for autism. But that didn’t sway him.
Some kids with autism, such as Walker’s son, have other conditions that allow them to access cannabis. But those who don’t are now left without a medication that could truly help them. And they’re stuck taking other medications – antipsychotics, antidepressants, ADHD drugs, sleeping pills. Cannabis could do more for autistic children with fewer side effects, but – thanks to the veto – many children no longer have that possibility.
When hearing that Hickenlooper had vetoed the bill at 5:10 PM (a decision he said he’d make by three in the afternoon), the mothers were understandably devasted. Some called him out for giving them false hope, others used more colorful language to express how they felt. Some said it was a “slap in the face” while others openly cried.
There was even a claim that Hickenlooper insinuated parents should try to get cannabis for their children by claiming other maladies or through recreational means (both of which are illegal). The governor’s office denied this, stating that Hickenlooper was instead trying to understand why some autistic children had access to medical marijuana while others did not.
Hickenlooper also allegedly told the mothers about a former staffer who he thought may have been on the autism spectrum. This staffer, who was also bipolar, committed suicide after trying cannabis and he was worried that the two were related. The concept that correlation does not prove causation is practically the motto of science: if someone drank Pepsi and then robbed a bank, would we blame the soda?
Hope for the Future
The decision was certainly an insult to parents, children, supporters, and the cannabis industry in general, but not all is lost. While issuing the veto, Hickenlooper also issued an executive order mandating the Department of Public Health and Environment to “evaluate the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders in children” within the next eighteen months. A year and a half is a long time for people who are suffering.
As for Congress, the legislators who supported the bill, they’re not done, either. They plan to reintroduce the bill in January of 2019.
Hickenlooper, on the bright side, didn’t alienate pot completely: he signed into law House Bill 1286. This bill allows school nurses to give cannabis to students who are prescribed it for medical purposes.