Local family leads fight to change laws to allow medical marijuana for children

by Katherine DeMarco and Connor Danik
Governor Chris Christie passed two parts of Senate Bill 2842 on Sep. 10, easing the process of enrolling children with serious illnesses in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program.
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The bill was inspired by two-year-old Vivian Wilson, a Scotch Plains resident. Her severe epilepsy, known as Dravet syndrome, causes her to have frequent, violent seizures, which medical marijuana will help to alleviate. To create the bill, Vivian’s parents worked with State Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood).
The plight of the Wilson family garnered national attention when they appeared on several news outlets pleading with Governor Christie to sign SB 2842.  Vivian’s father, Brian Wilson, chided  Christie for his initial reluctance to sign the bill, confronting the governor at a campaign stop at the Highlander Diner in Scotch Plains on Aug. 14.
“Please don’t let my daughter die, Governor. Please don’t let my daughter die,” said Wilson.
The new law removes the three-strain limit, under which marijuana dispensers can legally cultivate only three strains of marijuana species. Despite this change, the New Jersey dispensaries are not growing the non-psychoactive strain of  marijuana, high CBD/low THC, that Vivian needs. Although it was not the correct strain, on Oct. 28, the family received medical marijuana for the first time from a new dispensary that opened in Egg Harbor Township.
Christie vetoed the third part of the bill, which would have required only one physician recommendation instead of a recommendation from both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician.
“Overall, we’re happy that Governor Christie signed the bill into law but it’s not what we want to see,” said Megan Wilson, Vivian’s mother. “It would have made a lot more sense for my daughter’s neurologist to write a letter, because she treats her epilepsy, than [it would for] a psychiatrist who does not know Vivian.”
Vivian’s seizures, which are triggered by textures and patterns when observed  too closely, can last from one minute to an  hour. Dravet syndrome can curb mental development as early as age four. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Rare Diseases Research, a person with Dravet syndrome has an 85 percent chance of surviving into adulthood.
Since Vivian’s first seizure at two months old, her parents have tried seven different types of medications, all of which failed to curb the affliction. Only a protein-rich diet and the use of an eye patch have reduced the number of seizures.
Other than epilepsy, medical marijuana may have medical benefits for cancer, heart disease, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, skin conditions, traumatic brain injuries, and more.
“I truly believe it is just a miracle plant put on earth for good reasons,” said Mrs. Wilson.
The law also allows children to use edible medical marijuana, though adult use is still prohibited. The family is  disappointed that edibles for adults have not been legalized.
“A patient who is going through chemotherapy for lung cancer should not be forced to smoke medical marijuana,” said Mrs. Wilson.
Students can go to www.lettersforvivian.org to learn more about Vivian’s story and get involved in the cause.