There are parents in DeSoto County who have been waiting a long time for medical marijuana to come to Mississippi, and now their wait is finally over.
“My main push, all along, was for the kids,” said Amy Smoot, an activist for medical marijuana legalization in DeSoto County. “Because adults can find it, on the black market, we’ve been able to, forever. But we needed the kids to have safe, tested, regulated, medicine. Not something that came through 12 people’s hands and came through five states and you don’t know whose touched it. That was the whole goal all along, to get a safe, regulated product to these kids.”
Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in Mississippi in early February. The state will begin accepting license applications from businesses, doctors and patients on June 1, meaning medical marijuana could begin to be prescribed by July. Currently, Olive Branch and Hernando have opted into the states laws.
The bill, which allows patients to buy up to 3 ounces of marijuana per month, is designed to be used by people with debilitating conditions such as cancer, AIDS and sickle cell disease. It can also be used by kids who suffer from uncontrollable seizures, like Bryan Loftin. Bryan Loftin is 17 and lives with his parents and two siblings. When he was around four years old, he was diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease that causes intense seizures. For years, the Loftin family has been searching for anything that can help.
“We’ve been on a dozen medications over the years and none have helped the seizures, most have made his overall condition worse from the side effects,” Christine Loftin, Bryan’s mother, said. “For a number of years, we’ve wanted to try cannabis, but it’s not legal here and because I have three kids it’s not really an option to do things illegally. We are waiting impatiently.”
They have reason to believe that medical marijuana could work for Bryan. Small studies have shown success with pharmaceutical-grade marijuana extract controlling seizures in children. There isn’t a lot of conclusive scientific evidence yet, one way or the other, but parents across the county have long wanted a chance to try.
Around seven years ago, a story started in the national media about a strain of marijuana grown in Colorado named “Charlottes Web” after the first child who tried it, Charlotte Figi, that could help control seizures. Because of the apparent success of this strain, and because of the liberal marijuana laws in the state, parents across the country have flocked to Colorado in search for help for their kids.
Smoot first become passionate about the issue after hearing a similar story about a coworkers niece. The child was suffering from constant seizures, and had been in and out of hospitals for years. The medications available to the doctors to try weren’t helping, and in some cases were making her seizures more frequent. Eventually, when she was five-years old, she was discharged from the hospital and “told to prepare to die.”
“Thankfully, her mother took her home but did not prepare for her to die. Instead, they packed up everything they owned, left the state of Mississippi and their families behind and moved to Colorado. Once they got their daughter on cannabis oil, she’s been seizure free for four-and-a-half years,” Smoot said. “She’s off all prescription medications. She only takes cannabis oil and she’s a completely different child. She’s doing therapy, they’re getting her a communication device, she does horse therapy where she rides horses. When she was here and on pharmaceuticals, she was basically a zombie, all the time.”
But it isn’t possible, financially, for every family who wants to try their kids on medical marijuana to move to Colorado. For the Loftin’s, moving wasn’t possible due to their two other children and their jobs.
“Having a family with three children, it’s not the easiest thing to just pack everyone up and move half way across the country,” Loftin said. “That really was not an option with my husbands job. We’ve tried CBD oil, which does help a lot of people with a lot of different medical conditions, but in Bryan’s case, his seizures are so complicated, he’s going to need something a little stronger. He’s going to need some more THC than is allowable in the regular CBD oil.”
Medical marijuana has been legal in Arkansas since 2016, and the state accepts out-of-state medical cards. But Loftin, like a lot of parents, never felt safe going down that route to get medication for her son.
“If for whatever reason, something turns up [in a drug test], I can’t afford to lose custody of my child, even though I’m trying to save his life. The law doesn’t really seem to have interest in that,” Loftin said. “If at some point, Mississippi had not passed [the law] maybe we could have had duel residency and one of us could have lived in Arkansas, with Bryan. I’m not sure. Fortunately, we didn’t have to get to that point. A lot of my hesitancy for circumventing the system was you just don’t know who is going to say what to who and I can’t afford to have him removed from our home.”
Like any medication, it’s not a guarantee that medical marijuana will help Bryan- but the Loftin’s are hopeful, and excited to try anyways. The seizures can sometimes make it difficult for the family to do activities together, and they can cause further health complications for Bryan as well. He’s had black eyes and busted noses and a few summers ago, he fractured his skull during a seizure.
“Our hope is that we just give him a better quality of life, with less injuries,” Loftin said. “But then, he will also be able to do so many more things without his brain constantly misfiring.”
It has also been touching to watch the community, in DeSoto and Mississippi, come together to fight for medical marijuana in the state, both Loftin and Smoot said. In 2020, there was an initiative on medical marijuana that voters approved before it was struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court. During that election, Loftin had people texting and calling her to say they were going out and voting for Bryan.
“We had 16,000 people in DeSoto County vote for medical cannabis,” Smoot said. “That’s a pretty large substantial number of voters. Nothing like this has ever happened in Mississippi. How many times do you get that many people behind a cause, Democrat, Republican, all walks of life. This has really brought Mississippian’s together and shown them that if we stand together, we can get things accomplished.”
Gina Butkovich covers DeSoto County, storytelling and general news. She can be reached at 901-232-6714 or on Twitter @gigibutko.