It pains Jenny Allen to see her 6-year-old autistic son bang his head against the floor and bite himself, knowing there is little she can do to calm him.
After her son was diagnosed with autism at age 2, the Lansing woman placed him on a variety of diets, psychiatric therapies and medications, but they did little to mitigate his symptoms. She had long hoped she could one day try medical marijuana as a treatment — perhaps put some of the herb into a brownie to see if it helps her son.
Tuesday, she said, that hope was dashed as she watched the Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel reject a petition to add autism as an eligible condition for which medical marijuana can be used in the state. The vote was 2-7 against; one panel member was absent.
“I’m incredibly disappointed,” Allen, 32 said after the meeting. “The decision on autism was incredibly poorly informed.”
The ruling was among the first actions taken by the newly reconstituted panel — three months after the state disbanded it because the state Licensing and Regulatory Authority didn’t follow state administrative rules when it appointed the group. It was mandated by Michigan’s 2008 medical marijuana law, and state officials missed a statutory deadline to appoint its members by three years.
The new panel met Tuesday for the first time to conduct business, even though it’s unclear whether it can operate because it still lacks the required number of members. At issue is the fact that the 10-member panel has six members who also serve on the state’s Advisory Committee on Pain and Symptom Management. State administrative rules enacted in 2009 require the panel to have seven members from that committee.
State officials say the panel can conduct business as long as there is a quorum present at the meeting. Officials say Gov. Rick Snyder is preparing to fill a vacancy on the advisory committee that will allow the state to fill the final, 10th position on the panel.
“I feel like we are on the right path,” said Carole Engle, director of LARA’s Bureau of Health Care Services, which created the panel under a 2008 medical marijuana law.
The panel is the only process by which eligible conditions for medical marijuana use can be added. Under the law, residents can use medical marijuana, with a doctor’s approval, only for specific ailments, including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and Crohn’s disease.
The previous panel also considered autism, and following a public hearing, decided not to recommend it to LARA for approval. Steve Arwood, LARA’s director, makes the final decision on whether to add a new eligible condition.
On Tuesday, two panel members cited anecdotal evidence that medical marijuana can benefit both autistic adults and children, helping them cope better with the people around them. David Brogren, an insurance agent from Bloomfield Hills representing non-physician panel members, said he had learned of a case in which a 11-year-old child could only relate to people as objects, and that marijuana in a brownie helped him empathize with others as people.
But Jeanne Lewandowski, a panel member and director of palliative medicine at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, said she was concerned about potentially exposing autistic children to medical marijuana.
“Many of them are children, and there is not enough research on the medical marijuana impact on the developing brain,” she said.
The panel also issued a final rejection to adding asthma as an eligible condition. LARA officials said the panel was able to take final votes on the asthma and autism petitions because the previous incarnation of the panel had considered them.
The panel also took preliminary votes on new petitions to add post traumatic stress disorder and insomnia as qualifying conditions. The panel voted 5-4 to deny the insomnia petition, but approved PTSD in a 6-3 vote.
In both cases, the two petitions will proceed to a public hearing within 60 days — as yet unscheduled —and the panel will vote a second time on whether to forward the petitions on to Arwood for final approval.
The earlier panel decided in April, in a 5-2 vote, to add PTSD and Parkinson’s disease to the list of qualifying conditions. But LARA denied the petitions May 9 because the five yes votes did not constitute a quorum, according to departmental findings signed by Arwood.