All posts by Sam Oser

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances Past Committee with GOP Support

Originally posted by Sam DeGrave on Mon., April 3, 2017, 5:07pm CST here

Advocates applauded Monday’s vote, pointing to the more than 61,000 Texans who were arrested for possession of marijuana in 2015.

Marijuana possession could become a fine-only offense under House Bill 81.  SWARE/FLICKR

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee advanced a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday with the help of two Republicans.

With a 4–2 vote, the committee approved House Bill 81, authored by Chair Joe Moody, D-El Paso, at Monday’s hearing. Under HB 81, police would ticket someone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana rather than charging them with a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to six months in jail.

The measure passed with bipartisan support, but both no votes came from Republican freshmen — Cole Hefner, of Mt. Pleasant, and Mike Lang, of Granbury. Republicans Todd Hunter, of Corpus Christi, and Terry Wilson, of Marble Falls, joined the committee’s Democrats in advancing the bill beyond its first legislative hurdle.

State Representative Joe Moody, D-El Paso (right)  SAM DEGRAVE

“It is a fairly new concept in Texas not to criminalize conduct,” Moody told the Observer. “Part of the problem has been just getting people comfortable with the idea of treating this differently than we have in the past.”

Some Texas Republicans, who have traditionally opposed weakening penalties for drug convictions, seem to be warming to the idea of decriminalizing marijuana possession.

The GOP opposition might have been stiffer Monday had Moody not offered a committee substitute, which is less forgiving than the original proposal. The new version allows judges to elevate the civil offense to a Class C misdemeanor if a violator has already been cited three times for possessing small amounts of pot.

“If you’re going to be a frequent customer, you will be moved into the criminal arena,” Moody said during the hearing.

State Representative Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls  FACEBOOK

It was the substitute that won Moody the vote of the committee’s other Republican freshman. Wilson and his staff have been working with Moody on the bill, and they see the committee substitute as a step in the right direction, according to Jeff Frazier, Wilson’s chief of staff. Wilson is considering signing on to the bill as a joint author.

“Whether or not we end up as a joint author, this is a change we’d like to see in the state of Texas, and we’ll try our best to get those changes made,” Frazier told the Observer Monday.

Wilson may be new to the House, but his support as a joint author could be critically important for Moody. With Wilson, the bill would have two GOP joint authors. Representative Jason Isaac, of Dripping Springs, has already signed on.

Last session, Moody carried a nearly identical measure. Several Republicans, including David Simpson and Bryan Hughes — both of whom are no longer in the House — signed on to Moody’s bill as co-authors in 2013, but no GOP member supported the measure as a joint author, which is a greater show of support.

Moody will need all the help he can get from Republicans, including House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Vice Chair Hunter, who voted in support of the bill on Monday. The proposal now advances to the Calendars Committee, which determines the flow of legislation into the full House. Hunter chairs the powerful committee, which comprises 10 Republicans and five Democrats.

Hunter will play a major role in determining whether HB 81 makes it to the House floor — further than any bill lessening penalties for marijuana offenses has made it in the legislative process.

Advocates applauded Monday’s vote, pointing to the more than 61,000 people who were arrested in Texas for possession of marijuana in 2015, according to Department of Public Safety data.

“The state’s current policy of arresting and jailing people for simple marijuana possession is completely unwarranted,” said Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “Law enforcement officials’ time and limited resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes… No one should be saddled with a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol.”

Would legalizing medical marijuana help curb the opioid epidemic?

Originally published by Ronnie Cohen Mon Mar 27, 2017 | 4:46pm EDT here

(Reuters Health) – In states that legalized medical marijuana, U.S. hospitals failed to see a predicted influx of pot smokers, but in an unexpected twist, they treated far fewer opioid users, a new study shows.

Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after marijuana was permitted for medicinal purposes, the analysis found. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average.

At the same time, fears that legalization of medical marijuana would lead to an uptick in cannabis-related hospitalizations proved unfounded, according to the report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers,” said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.

“This study and a few others provided some evidence regarding the potential positive benefits of legalizing marijuana to reduce opioid use and abuse, but they are still preliminary,” she said in an email.

Dr. Esther Choo, a professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, was intrigued by the study’s suggestion that access to cannabis might reduce opioid misuse.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that battling the opioid epidemic will require a multi-pronged approach and a good deal of creativity,” Choo, who was not involved in the study, said in an email. “Could increased liberalization of marijuana be part of the solution? It seems plausible.”

However, she said, “there is still much we need to understand about the mechanisms through which marijuana policy may affect opioid use and harms.”

An estimated 60 percent of Americans now live in the 28 states and Washington, D.C. where medical marijuana is legal under state law.

Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic – sparked by a quadrupling since 1999 in sales of prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin – kills 91 Americans a day.

Shi analyzed hospitalization records from 1997 through 2014 for 27 states, nine of which implemented medical marijuana policies. Her study was the fifth to show declines in opioid use or deaths in states that allow medical cannabis.

Previous studies reported associations between medical marijuana and reductions in opioid prescriptions, opioid-related vehicle accidents and opioid-overdose deaths.

In a 2014 study, Dr. Marcus Bachhuber found deaths from opioid overdoses fell by 25 percent in states that legalized medical marijuana.

Since last year, when New York rolled out its medical marijuana program, Bachhuber has included cannabis in a menu of options he offers his patients who suffer chronic or severe pain from neuropathy and HIV/AIDS, he said in a phone interview. Bachhuber, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, was not involved in the new study.

Many of Bachhuber’s patients ask for help quitting highly addictive opioids, and some have used marijuana to taper off the prescription painkillers, he said.

Nonetheless, a 1970 federal law puts cannabis in the same category as heroin, Schedule 1 of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, and finds it has no medicinal value. Consequently, doctors can only recommend, not prescribe, marijuana, and physicians who work for the federal government cannot even discuss the weed.

Federal prohibition also has led to severe limitations on marijuana research.

In January, a National Academies report found conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis can effectively treat chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and spasticity. The report, written by an independent panel of medical experts, found no evidence of cannabis overdose deaths.

It did, however, find links between cannabis use and an increased risk of vehicle accidents as well as the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, particularly among the most frequent users.

Bachhuber lamented the dearth of research on the best ways to use marijuana as medicine.

“We have information that it works based on the National Academies’ report,” he said. “But we don’t know who it works best for, at what dosage, for how long.”

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top cop, reiterated his concerns about marijuana and heroin, an illegal opioid.

“I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana,” he told law enforcement officers in Virginia, “so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2mRVepg Drug and Alcohol Dependence, online February 21, 2017.

Veteran pushes pot for PTSD treatment

Posted by Leah Durain, KBMT on 12 News here at 10:32pm CDT March 23, 2017

JEFFERSON COUNTY – United States service men and women encounter challenges throughout the course of their military careers. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a battle that sometimes continues even after a veteran puts away their combat boots.

In 23 states, medical marijuana is allowed for treatment of PTSD. Texas is not on that list. A lawmaker from San Antonio is wanting to change that.

State Senator José Menédez filed bill 269, hoping to help make medicinal marijuana available in Texas, just like many other prescription drugs on the market.

A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 83% of Texans support making marijuana legal for medical purposes.

Menédez says he would like to see more health conditions, like PTSD,  added to the list of illnesses available for medicinal marijuana use.

Admitting to experimenting with marijuana in the past to ease PTSD bouts, and with the practice being illegal in Texas, the former Marine did not want to be identified by name. The veteran is sharing his story because he believes medical marijuana could be the difference between life and death for veterans across the nation battling PTSD.

“I’ve been blown up seven times. I killed my first man three days before I turned 21,” said the veteran.  “I want to let people know what we go through on a daily basis.”

As a corporal in the Marines, the Jefferson County man spent 2006 and 2007 in Iraq. Since getting out of the military in 2008 he’s been working to adjust to civilian life.

“I wake up during the night covered in sweat, scared out of my mind… I’m at that point where I just want to end it.”

He says it’s been a struggle to find relief from the torment.

“We’re fighting a losing battle,” explained the veteran. “Twenty-two veterans a day take their own lives. Any other group of people that would be unacceptable. But for some reason for our veterans, it’s ok. We didn’t fight a war alone, we shouldn’t fight this battle alone.”

This vet is asking Texas lawmakers to step up and make medical marijuana a legal treatment option for military members with PTSD.

“If the government would legalize it, I could take a couple of puffs of something and all of a sudden my problems are gone.”

He wants to find a solution and has already reached out for help.
The vet has tried six or seven medications prescribed through the local Veterans Affairs clinic.

“I’ll feel like a stranger in my own skin, I won’t think the way I normally think, I won’t act the way I normally act.”

Another devastating side effect has been complications starting a family.

“I want to be a Dad.”

The vet and his wife have been trying to have a child but he says the medications are making it difficult.

In an analysis of four commonly prescribed medications for PTSD, sexual problems were included in a list of side effects.

Other common side effects listed by WebMD were diarrhea, dizziness, trouble sleeping and vision problems. The website offered dozens of possible complications ranging from common to more rare.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs published an article written by Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, Ph.D. and Glenna S. Rousseau, Ph.D., discouraging veterans to use marijuana to treat PTSD because:

“Research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD… studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD.”

Other concerns include the potential for chronic bronchitis, extended use leading to addiction and that marijuana could cause problems with brain development in juveniles.

Another study done by researchers in Denmark links pot use to lower sperm count; ironically a potential barrier to growing a family.

These cons are something the veteran says he would take over the list of side effects on his pill bottles.

Dozens of other states allow PTSD to be treated with medical marijuana. Veterans Affairs is not required to cover the cost. Federally, marijuana is still illegal and classified as a “Schedule I” controlled substance. This means private insurance won’t pay for it, even in states that have decriminalized pot.

In states where all adults 21 and up are allowed to buy recreational marijuana, there’s still a cost difference if you get a note from the doctor. A blog in Colorado estimates it costs a medicinal patient $329.88 a month to treat PTSD with marijuana but a recreational purchaser using edible style pot would have to shell out $654.64.

For the Texas born and bred veteran, the Lone Star State has a lot of catching up to do.

“How many of my brothers would still be alive if they had medical marijuana?”

He says veterans lives are hanging in the balance and it’s up to lawmakers to send a life-raft.

12News reached out to Texas lawmakers to see where they would stand on a bill allowing medical marijuana as a legal PTSD treatment option. As of press time, none have offered up comment.

Texans wanting to see Senator Menédez’s comprehensive medical marijuana bill pass through the state legislature are encouraged to call up their local representative and let them know.

© 2017 KBMT-TV

When the One Drug You Believe Protects Your Child Could Put You in Jail

Posted by Naomi Martin on Dallas News here

In the dark, Christy Zartler plucks a pair of jeans and a T-shirt from the closet and lays them on the bed. She opens the blinds, and sunlight fills the pink bedroom on a quiet Richardson street.

“Hey, girl,” she sings. “Guess what? It’s Friday! Friday means fun day!”

Kara, 17, sits up and stares in her mother’s eyes. Then she brings her palm to her ear, poised to start doing what, by now, more than 70 million people have seen her do on Facebook.

“No,” her mother says.

Kara starts smashing the base of her palm against her ear. Over and over.

Kara Zartler cries and pulls her hair in a fit of self-abuse this month at her home in Richardson. She suffers the fits at least a few times a week, sometimes several in a day.  (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Kara Zartler cries and pulls her hair in a fit of self-abuse this month at her home in Richardson. She suffers the fits at least a few times a week, sometimes several in a day.  (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Kara, a 98-pound girl with gray-blue eyes and short brown hair, has severe autism and cerebral palsy. The blows are a symptom of her autism, though no one knows what triggers them. Right now, she’s not hitting that hard. At her most intense, though, she makes herself bleed and breaks her own bones. It takes two people to restrain her while a third person grabs her “rescue” meds. If she’s able to wriggle free, she fights back. She’s bitten into the bone of her mother’s finger. Her school has documented her hitting herself 3,000 times in one day.

The family has tried prescription drugs, but the only remedy they have found that soothes Kara quickly and effectively is marijuana.

Her father, Mark Zartler, gives it to her using a vaporizer attached to a medical mask. Just owning the drug is a crime punishable by six months in jail.

Kara Zartler punches herself in the head with both fists as her father Mark places a medical mask over her nose and mouth and fills it with marijuana vapor in an effort to control her fit of self-abuse on March 18 in Richardson. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Kara Zartler punches herself in the head with both fists as her father Mark places a medical mask over her nose and mouth and fills it with marijuana vapor in an effort to control her fit of self-abuse on March 18 in Richardson. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Can marijuana help?

The Zartlers want Texas lawmakers to pass a bill, currently on file in Austin, that would legalize marijuana for autism patients under a doctor’s care. Such a bill is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where many conservatives remain unconvinced the unproven treatment is a good idea.

To persuade lawmakers, Mark and Christy decided to make a video last month about their struggle — despite the possibilities of getting in trouble with the police or Child Protective Services.

The video shows Kara punching herself and yelling. Mark places a clear-plastic medical mask over Kara’s nose and mouth and fills it with marijuana vapor. Within minutes, Kara is calm.

Mark posted the video to his Facebook page. It went viral and made national news.

“Somebody has to be the poster child,” Mark Zartler said earlier this month while sitting at the family’s kitchen table, next to a cross on the wall. “This is the only medicine that will calm her down when she’s aggressive. It’s certainly safer than her punching herself in the face. It’s certainly safer than her autism drugs.”

Mark knows he may go to jail over his advocacy. He has tried to limit his criminal exposure by getting rid of pot brownies, cookies and oils — which he says are effective for Kara, but could be considered felonies. He keeps only a small amount of marijuana in the house, with the understanding that anything less than 2 ounces is a Class B misdemeanor.

The parents want lawmakers to see the dilemma they face: If they allow Kara to hit herself, they’re negligent. But the best method they have to get her to stop makes them criminals.

Neither parent has a criminal record, except for the time Mark was arrested for drinking in college.

Two weeks ago, a woman working for CPS knocked on the Zartlers’ door, and Mark showed her his marijuana vaporizer. Now, the worker wants the parents to take drug tests and meet with her supervisor. The Zartlers have hired an attorney.

Premature kids

Mark, a software engineer, and Christy, a pediatric nurse, married in 1994. Christy hoped she’d get pregnant right away. But five years went by, and it didn’t happen. She grew depressed. Every Mother’s Day stung.

The couple eventually spent $25,000 on in vitro fertilization. Christy became pregnant on the first try with identical twins. They felt it was a blessing from God.

The baby girls — Keeley and Kara — were born three months premature. Keeley developed healthily, but at 15 months, Kara was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Still, she grew well for the first three years of her life. She sang along to music. She called to her mom “Mama,” and said “bubbles” when she got in the tub. Her parents logged the number of words she spoke: 68.

<p>Baby photos of Kara Zartler and her twin sister Keeley, and the sisters at age 17.&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 1em; line-height: 1.364; background-color: transparent;">The twins were born three months premature. Keeley developed healthily, but at 15 months, Kara was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and later, autism.</span><span style="font-size: 1em; line-height: 1.364; background-color: transparent;">&nbsp;(Left: Smiley N. Pool/DMN; Right: Shaun McAlister)</span></p>

Baby photos of Kara Zartler and her twin sister Keeley, and the sisters at age 17. The twins were born three months premature. Keeley developed healthily, but at 15 months, Kara was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and later, autism. (Left: Smiley N. Pool/DMN; Right: Shaun McAlister)

But around age 3, Kara stopped speaking. She made less eye contact. She started hitting other kids. By 4, she was punching herself in the head. Her fits would come daily or weekly — without notice — and sometimes last for hours. Her parents took turns holding her arms back for 30 minutes at a time.

“Autism took her,” Christy said. “She’s no longer a person that can talk and tell me how she feels. You feel grief for the child that’s living right in front of you.”

One in 68 American children has autism, and self-injury affects about 28 percent of children with autism disorders, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, Kara’s parents say her symptoms are more severe than her peers’.

Kara started taking Risperidone, an antipsychotic medication typically used for schizophrenia, at age 6, and it helped. Over time, though, she needed a higher and higher dosage as her body built up a tolerance.

When Kara was 9, Christy recalled, a pharmacist was shocked at the dosage.

“This is what I’d give a 2,000-pound horse,” she remembered him saying. “I’d never give this to a 49-pound girl.”

Risperidone turned Kara into a “zombie,” her parents said. She drooled and had less interest in her surroundings.

Kara’s self-punching fits continued. She broke her nose and, another time, her eye socket. In one instance, she ended up in an emergency room and was given morphine. Even that drug couldn’t stop her.

Now she has “cauliflower ears,” swollen and deformed, like those of a boxer.

When Kara was 11, the Zartlers’ pot-smoking neighbor asked if the family had ever given her marijuana. Mark and Christy looked at each other and laughed.

Even so, they accepted his offer of a weed brownie. A few weeks later, they gave Kara a piece of the brownie before a family trip to Galveston.

Kara Zartler at the beach in Galveston as a young girl. Her severe autism developed around age 4.&nbsp;
Kara Zartler at the beach in Galveston as a young girl. Her severe autism developed around age 4.

Usually those trips were filled with Kara punching herself and yelling. But this time, she was calm the entire five-hour ride. She made more eye contact and took an interest in looking out the window.

“We were euphoric,” Christy said. “The cannabis helps her leave her autistic traits and enter this world of communication and existence.”

Over the past six years, Mark and Christy said, cannabis has proved to be the only medicine that works every time. Kara’s doctors told the family it is good they found something that works, but the doctors could not recommend breaking the law.

The Zartlers considered moving to Colorado — or another of the 28 states where medical marijuana is legal. But both Mark and Christy take care of their elderly parents here.

In the past 12 months, the Zartlers said, Kara has developed faster than she had in the past nine years.

Kara makes eye contact more often. She can pull her pants up and take them off. She can flip a light switch. Some days, she can go to the bathroom by herself. She can use a fork.

Also, her parents said, her personality has emerged. She’s started rolling her eyes more. When Christy joked that Kara, who loves food, was going to “eat us out of this house,” Kara looked over and laughed.

“Oh, my God,” Christy said. “I’ve never known my girl. This is the first time I’ve gotten to really meet her and meet her personality. She’s sassy.”

Christy Zartler hugs her daughter Kara at their Richardson home. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Christy Zartler hugs her daughter Kara at their Richardson home. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

They attribute these gains to cutting back her Risperidone and giving her regular doses of a cannabis oil called CBD, which is legal and creates no high because of its low levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. The family uses ground-up marijuana leaves, which are illegal and contain high levels of THC, as Kara’s emergency “rescue.”

The Zartlers had never been activists. But they thought it was cruel that they could be arrested just for helping their child. They wanted the law to change so Kara could someday live in a group home and still receive the medicine she needs. And they wanted to help other families who care for children with severe autism.

Mark pondered making a video for months before deciding to do it. If people saw the Zartlers’ reality for themselves, maybe they would understand, he thought. This could be Kara’s purpose. This could be why God gave her to them.

Mark let his dad know about his idea.

You need to stay quiet, his dad said. You’ll get arrested.

But Mark was tired of being quiet.

Advocating for pot

Texas lawmakers have filed bills in both the House and the Senate that would legalize marijuana for autistic patients. But the chance either will pass is small.

“Frankly, this is an uphill battle,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who authored the Senate bill. “In a state where we value people’s independence and we value professional medical advice, it should be easy to say doctors know what’s best, but … politically, some people are afraid of being seen as being pro-pot, if you will.”

During spring break in March, the Zartlers dropped off Kara at a weeklong camp and headed to Austin with Keeley to lobby Republican lawmakers who control both chambers.

Christy Zartler  consults her notes for her next meeting while shuffling between meetings at the Texas state capitol on March 15, 2017, in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Christy Zartler consults her notes for her next meeting while shuffling between meetings at the Texas state capitol on March 15, 2017, in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

They met in the Capitol cafeteria with their group, Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism. MAMMA was started in Texas in 2014 and now has 300 member families in the state. A dozen of the moms wore black-and-red T-shirts. Some brought their autistic children.

Many wore crosses and described themselves as conservative Christian Republicans. Like Mark and Christy, they never imagined they’d lobby on behalf of marijuana legalization until they saw it helped their kids.

In a stairwell outside the House floor, the Zartlers met with Rep. James White, a Woodville Republican. Nearby, a historic flag hung, inscribed with the words LIBERTY OR DEATH.

White said he’d seen Kara’s video and was interested in what the research showed.

“If we had validated, peer-reviewed research, obviously, yes, I will support this,” White said. “Why would I not support it?”

Mark, a Republican himself, understood why a guy like White would be hesitant to back them. He explained that doctors and researchers are in a “catch-22.” They want to study marijuana, but their hands are tied because it’s illegal.

“We came out, and now CPS is coming after us,” Mark said. “If they come out and support it, they’re taking a career risk.”

Still, White agreed to sign on as a co-author of the House bill.

A mom in the group hugged White. The Zartlers teared up.

Members of the Texas-based group Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism wait in a side room for a meeting with the staff of Sen. Dawn Buckingham at the Texas Capitol on March 15 in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Members of the Texas-based group Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism wait in a side room for a meeting with the staff of Sen. Dawn Buckingham at the Texas Capitol on March 15 in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Mark and Christy spent the day hustling from one legislator’s office to another, passing through portrait-lined halls filled with tourists and schoolchildren. Over and over, staffers told the family they were moved while watching Kara’s video.

“If you’re not feeling it, you’re not living,” said Terry Franks, chief of staff for Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who also sponsored the House bill.

But not all lawmakers were encouraging.

The Zartlers met with a staffer for Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, a former nurse who championed a law last session that legalized CBD, a cannabis extract that creates no high, for epileptic patients. In her office, a gold frame encased a photo of her and the words: “FORMER FETUS.”

Mark told the aide about his situation with CPS. He was worried about what could happen.

“All of a sudden, I’m a horrible criminal,” he said. “They’re gonna make me move out of the house because I’m an abusive father. It makes no sense.”

The staffer, who permitted a reporter to observe the exchange on condition that he not be named, was sympathetic but said his boss wasn’t ready to support their cause.

“At some point, they’re gonna figure out why it’s working,” Mark said. “But until that point, we’ve already figured out that it is working.”

Outside, none of the parents smiled as they flipped through their notes for their next meeting.

“It’s politics,” Mark shrugged.

He looked at his cellphone and saw he missed a call from CPS.

The political landscape

The portion of Texans who believe marijuana should remain illegal for both recreational and medical uses has dropped in the past two years, from 24 percent to 17 percent. And 41 percent of Texas Republicans would legalize marijuana for recreational use, according to a February poll by The Texas Tribune and the University of Texas.

Broad segments of the Texas GOP’s base want legalization of some sort. Among them are libertarians and military veterans. About 1,400 veterans signed a petition asking Gov. Greg Abbott to let them use marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder. A conservative Houston woman in her 80s, Ann Lee, founded Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition after her son became paraplegic in an accident and she saw how marijuana relieved his nerve pain.

Christy Zartler mixes Kara's morning medications, pills she has crushed into a powder, with a spoonful of honey before giving them to her daughter. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Christy Zartler mixes Kara’s morning medications, pills she has crushed into a powder, with a spoonful of honey before giving them to her daughter. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

In the current session, Republican politicians have been hesitant to openly oppose the medical marijuana bills.

Neither Abbott’s spokesman nor Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s responded to requests for comment.  Texas Values and the Eagle Forum, two of the state’s most conservative policy advocacy groups, also declined.

This year, the Republican Party of Texas called for allowing “doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.”

Even so, the party opposes the House and Senate bills because they would enable people to get high — unlike the current cannabis extract that’s legal because it is low in THC.

“Legalizing drugs is not the answer,” said Michael Joyce, spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas.

The Texas Sheriffs Association’s legislative chair, Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback, pointed to research that he said showed rises in emergency room visits, traffic crashes and unemployment in Colorado since legalization.

“We’re not unmindful of” families like the Zartlers, Louderback said. “But as Texas sheriffs, we see the ability to abuse this is huge.”

A lack of research

Doctors say the link between marijuana and autism needs further study.

“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from parents like this,” said Dr. Gregory Barnes, the director of the University of Louisville Autism Center. “Unfortunately, there’s not really any research at all in autism that you could hang your hat on, in humans, that would validate those parents’ observations.”

He said the part of the brain that controls self-aggression is filled with cannabinoid receptors, suggesting cannabis compounds could work in those areas. In animal studies, researchers have found such compounds reduced obsessive-compulsive behaviors, Barnes said — but animals don’t hurt themselves the way humans do.

However, Barnes cautioned that THC, especially in high levels, could be “very toxic” and could cause brain lesions in children.

Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, Barnes said, researchers must spend years and lots of money navigating regulations to study it. The result: Lawmakers don’t want to legalize a drug that isn’t fully researched. But science is delayed by the plant’s illegality.

In a wheelchair, Kara Zartler joined her family at a demonstration advocating for medical marijuana legalization. Her father Mark gives her marijuana to stop her from punching herself. (Family photo)&nbsp;
In a wheelchair, Kara Zartler joined her family at a demonstration advocating for medical marijuana legalization. Her father Mark gives her marijuana to stop her from punching herself. (Family photo)

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in March 2015 opposing medical marijuana for kids except for “children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate.”

Dr. Seth Ammerman, the statement’s lead author and a Stanford University pediatrician, said the Zartlers are a prime example of why the use of marijuana for autistic children needs to be studied further.

“We certainly need more science,” Ammerman said. “This is a compassionate use issue for families like this. They’ve tried everything and it hasn’t worked. They’re not doing this to neglect or abuse their child — they’re doing it to help their child.”

Without warning

Kara’s fits come without warning, sometimes several a day, sometimes a few a week. She’s most stable when following a routine, so her parents take pains to stick to a schedule. Weekends are tough.

On a recent Saturday morning, Mark and Christy are at home with their daughters. Kara’s doing one of her favorite things — she kneels on her bed, wraps a yellow blanket around her head and body, and rocks back and forth. Her head hits a pillow her parents have put against the wall to protect her.

Kara Zartler wraps herself in her blanket, kneeling on her bed and rocking forward and back, one of her usual calming mechanisms, after getting home from school on Thursday, March 9, in Richardson. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Kara Zartler wraps herself in her blanket, kneeling on her bed and rocking forward and back, one of her usual calming mechanisms, after getting home from school on Thursday, March 9, in Richardson. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Her parents try to get Kara to stop so she can take her medicines. She keeps rocking. Finally, they coax her up. She starts slamming her palm into the side of her head.

Mark and Christy try to calm her. They hug her and whisper to her.

She keeps hitting.

They give her medicine for her allergies and stomach pains. No effect.

In the living room, sitting in a black leather armchair, Kara screams and cries. She pulls her hair  and strikes her cheeks and ears.

Kara becomes more agitated. Her cheeks are red and swollen. Scabs on her ears are about to break open and bleed. Mark and Christy decide she needs a marijuana “rescue.”

Mark Zartler restrains his daughter to keep her from hitting herself as he rocks with her in a chair after giving her a marijuana vapor treatment on Saturday, March 18, &nbsp;in Richardson. Within minutes, Kara was calm. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Mark Zartler restrains his daughter to keep her from hitting herself as he rocks with her in a chair after giving her a marijuana vapor treatment on Saturday, March 18,  in Richardson. Within minutes, Kara was calm. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

In the kitchen, Mark grinds the soft green leaves. He measures out a small spoonful and heats it in a vaporizer. Christy fastens a pink helmet onto Kara’s head, and Kara punches her cheeks. Christy places her hands over Kara’s face.

“Yeah, just hit your helmet,” Christy says gently.

Mark arrives with the plastic bag filled with marijuana vapor and attaches it to a medical mask he places over Kara’s mouth and nose.

“Twinkle twinkle, little star,” Christy sings while holding Kara’s hands back as she inhales the vapor.

Mark puts Kara on his lap as he sits in the chair, rocking, with his arms wrapped around her in a bear hug.

After three minutes, Kara is calm. Her fists have loosened. Her frenzied breath has slowed.

“There we go,” Mark says. “Are you good to be on your own now? Let’s let Daddy get up and you sit down.”

She sits in the chair and rocks herself and hums. After a minute, she walks to a spot on the kitchen counter where her parents have placed a tupperware bucket filled with raw rice and red beans. Kara runs her hands through the grains, picking them up and bringing them to her face. She repeats the motion over and over.

A smile grows on Kara’s face as she plays. She’s calm for the rest of the day.