If passed, it would be the first time that federal law allows any medical marijuana use.
"No one should face a choice of having their child suffer or moving to Colorado and splitting up their family," said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania, the bill's sponsor. "We live in America, and if there's something that would make my child better, and they can't get it because of the government, that's not right."
The bill will land in a Congress that may be open to change. Across the country, highly sympathetic patients and a nonintoxicating product have proved a popular mix. This year alone, 11 states have passed legislation loosening regulation of cannabis strains with high cannabidiol and/or minimal THC content.
In this atmosphere, Perry says that once members and their staffs are brought up to speed, he expects the bill to attract "overwhelming" support.
"It wouldn't be surprising if we see broad support for this proposal," agreed Mason Tvert, communications director at the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for marijuana and medical marijuana legalization. "If this bill gets support, it will demonstrate that there is recognition of marijuana's medical benefits."
Dubbed the Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014, the bill is named after Charlotte Figi, a young Colorado girl whose parents have campaigned nationwide for easier access to medical marijuana after successfully controlling their daughter's seizures with cannabis oil. Since her story became known, a growing number of parents have flocked to Colorado, hoping for similar success.
The Charlotte's Web cannabis strain, developed by the Realm of Caring nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs, is in high demand, in part because of the attention it's received in the media. Many families wait months for a batch to be grown and processed into cannabis oil. Perry's bill, however, would apply to any cannabis strain with a THC content of less than 0.3%.
Charlotte's Web and similar strains not only have minimal THC, they have high levels of cannabidiol, another chemical. A growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabidiol can effectively control seizures, though there are no published studies to support its use.
It's easy to find critics who say parents should follow a more traditional route.
"There is no evidence for marijuana as a treatment for seizures," Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, a physician, claimed during a congressional hearing last month. "We hear anecdotal stories, and that's how myths come about."
Fleming and others point out that a pharmaceutical version of cannabidiol oil, called Epidiolex, is being tested in clinical trials. But many children aren't able to get into the trials. Haleigh Cox is disqualified because she has type-1 diabetes. Others aren't willing to wait several months to be enrolled.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books allowing medical marijuana for a variety of conditions. But even as states rewrite their regulations, federal law remains the same: Marijuana is illegal to grow, sell or use for any purpose. Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is listed on Schedule 1, meaning it has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." To backers of reform, the Catch-22 is familiar: Marijuana is restricted in large part because there is little research to support medical uses; research is difficult to conduct because of tight restrictions.
A medical marijuana bill in Arkansas failed to get the support of voters in November 2012.
The Food and Drug Administration is conducting a review of scientific evidence to determine whether marijuana warrants looser treatment, but a spokeswoman says there's no set date to complete the analysis. A review in 2011 ended with the Drug Enforcement Administration leaving marijuana's status unaltered.
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