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  • Writer's pictureAaron Killion

Can You Get an MMJ Card for Autism in Arizona?

Autism spectrum disorder isn't currently on the list of qualifying conditions for Arizona, but two new senate bills—SB 1466 and SB 1349—could see this condition added to the list along with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the near future.

The move to allow AZ physicians to recommend medical marijuana for certain autism symptoms follows two failed attempts in 2020 and 2021—both of which were backed by the Arizona chapter of Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA) and sponsored by Representative Diego Espinoza.

There are currently some families in AZ whose autistic children are taking medical marijuana legally for conditions that are currently on the list of qualifying medical conditions—including epilepsy and cancer—and while clinical research is still lacking, anecdotal evidence indicates that medical marijuana extracts may help with some the most debilitating autism symptoms: constant agitation, episodes of rage, and self-injury.

SB 1466 and 1349 Would Add Autism to Qualifying Conditions

SB 1466, known as the Medical Omnibus Bill, proposes the additions of autism spectrum disorder and post-traumatic stress order to the list of Arizona qualifying conditions in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. The bill would also codify the use of MMJ telehealth appointments.

SB 1349 complements SB1466 with further details about the certification and follow-up of MMJ patients with autism. If this bill is approved, patients could qualify for a medical marijuana card if they have: "Any debilitating condition of autism spectrum disorder including agitation, rage attacks, or self-injurious behavior."

This bill also specifies that the certifying physician:

  • Must be a pediatrician if the patient is under 18 and the debilitating medical condition is autism

  • Shall tell the patient's designated caregiver the potency, quantity, and frequency of medical marijuana that the patient should take

  • Shall evaluate the patient monthly until a stable dose is achieved that delivers beneficial effects, and shall then evaluate the patient every six months

  • Shall report the results to the Arizona Department of Health Services each year

These specifications ensure that patients are adequately supervised and are taking the best form and amount of cannabis for their needs. Furthermore, reporting the results each year gives the AZDHS a way to measure the effectiveness of the medical marijuana program for children and adults with autism in the state.

Previous Attempts to Add Autism to Qualifying Conditions

There have been two previous attempts to add autism to the list of medical conditions for an Arizona medical card:

  1. House Bill 2049 was a partisan bill sponsored by Representative Diego Espinoza and Lorenzo Sierra that sought to add opioid use disorder and autism spectrum disorder to the list of AZ qualifying conditions. The bill died in chamber on 12 March 2020.

  2. House Bill 2154 was a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Diego Espinoza, Rep. Regina Cobb, Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, and Rep. Kevin Payne that sought to add ASD to the list with the same wording and conditions as SB 1349. The bill was introduced on 25 January 2021 and died 30 June of the same year.

Other States That Allow Medical Marijuana for Autism

Currently, there are more than 10 states that list autism as a qualifying condition for an MMJ card, including:

  • Delaware

  • Georgia

  • Illinois

  • Iowa

  • Louisiana

  • Michigan

  • Minnesota

  • New Mexico

  • Pennsylvania

  • Rhode Island

  • Texas

  • Utah

Patients can also be given a medical license for autism on doctor discretion in:

  • California

  • Florida

  • Oklahoma

  • Oregon

  • Washington D.C.

After several unsuccessful attempts, there's currently a push for autism to be added to the list of qualifying medical conditions in Ohio. At a national level, cannabis for autism is definitely gaining momentum.

Why Medical Marijuana for Autism Isn't a Clear-Cut Case

For parents of autistic children—especially members of MAMMA—medical marijuana extracts have provided hope after prescription drugs haven't been effective at reducing aggressive, violent, and self-destructive behaviors. There is also interest in MMJ for anxiety, which is often present together with ASD. Finally, high-CBD, low-THC MMJ extracts and pastes also appear to have fewer side effects compared to drugs that are commonly prescribed for autism.

On the other side of the argument, there is currently a lack of clinical studies showing if and how medical marijuana could help with autism symptoms. An Israeli study published by Dr. Aran in 2021 indicates that a 20:1 CBD:THC extract could reduce disruptive behavior and improve social responsiveness in autistic children compared to placebo, but the participant group was so diverse that it was hard to draw any generalized conclusions.

The other concern expressed by legislators and community members is the long-term effects of cannabis consumption on children's development. This is a concern that's hard to test as it would require longitudinal studies and ethical approval for cannabis administration to minors. However, from a parent's perspective, the benefits of a calm(er) child who can sleep well, interact with others, and doesn't damage property or his or her own body far outweigh the risks.

How Close Are SB 1466 and SB 1349 to Being Passed?

SB 1466 was approved with a 7-2 vote in the Health and Human Services Committee Hearing and passed in the Arizona Senate 24 to 6. The bill will now head to the House floor and, if it passes there, will be signed into law. SB 1349 is still in the initial hearing.

If you live in Arizona and want to see these bills come into effect, you can send a letter or email to your representative expressing your support of the bills and sharing any relevant testimonies about your experience with autism symptoms and cannabis.

AZ Medical Card for Autism Might Not Be Far Away

While SB 1466 and SB 1349 aren't yet a done deal, cannabis for autism is gaining support in Arizona and various other states around the U.S. as families find relief for their children's severest symptoms with medical marijuana extracts.

While there is still a lot more research to do, the momentum is definitely building. If you want to see autism added to Arizona's list, now is the time to make your voice heard!


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