Once a medical-marijuana refugee, girl returns to Ohio

 

Anne Saker, The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER, Ohio — An Ohio girl, who moved to Colorado with her family because she couldn’t use medical marijuana to treat her disease in the state, has now returned to Ohio.

To celebrate the return of Addyson Benton, her parents, Heather and Adam Benton, threw a bash June 17 for Addyson’s sixth birthday.

Addyson and a young pal waked hand-in-hand around the venue, with Addyson smiling and pointing at the lights and train sounds.

“She’s been the ultimate factor on every decision,” said Heather Benton, brushing a hand over her daughter’s hair. “Her well-being is the only thing that matters.”

 

Addyson suffers from myoclonic epilepsy, a severe neurological disorder that can trigger as many as 1,000 seizures a day. In Addyson, the disease resisted conventional treatment. From other Ohio families with children who have epilepsy, the Bentons learned that marijuana products such as patches and oils have been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.

 

But for nearly two decades, the Ohio General Assembly had refused even to debate a medical-marijuana program in the Buckeye State — even though, in that time, about half the states legalized medical use. In eight states and the District of Columbia, voters have approved recreational use, too.

In early 2015, desperate to ease Addyson’s symptoms, the Bentons rented their home in Butler County, Ohio, packed a truck and left their large circle of family and friends to join a tide of medical-marijuana refugees to Colorado. There, the Bentons found Dr. Margaret Gedde of Colorado Springs, who gave the permission to treat Addyson with marijuana products.

Every day, Heather or Adam applied a small patch of marijuana medicine to Addyson’s ankle and gave her stronger concentrations of marijuana products for breakthrough seizures. The Bentons said that with consistent treatment, Addyson has fewer than 10 seizures daily. She is rapidly acquiring language, and her balance and stability have improved.

Because of their vocal, visible advocacy, Addyson and her parents became the faces of Issue 3, the 2015 marijuana legalization ballot initiative in Ohio, and appeared in television ads with the hashtag #BringAddyHome. Voters, though, crushed Issue 3 by a margin of  2-1. The homesick Bentons worried they might never return to their native state.

Yet when Issue 3 died, the General Assembly, concerned about another ballot attempt to legalize recreational use, found a way to enact a program to permit medical marijuana. Gov. John Kasich signed the bill, and it went into effect in September.

The program is limited. Patients cannot grow marijuana or smoke it. The state is taking applications from potential growers and dispensary owners, and some advocates complain the process is moving too slowly. Medicine made from Ohio-grown marijuana probably will not be available for at least another year.

Though they enjoyed Colorado, Heather Benton said Addyson let them know she missed the people she loved. “We had friends and family coming and visiting us, but when they left, she would just get really upset. … It was emotionally stressful for her and emotionally stressful for us. We just felt that the time had come for us to come home, and it was the right thing to do.”

Katie and John Bauer lived next door to the Bentons in Butler County. As John Bauer sat next to Addyson at her birthday party, Katie Bauer said she would not have even thought about medical marijuana until the Bentons began advocating for Addyson.

“The fact that there is a grown-from-the-ground solution is important,” said Bauer. “We’re just so glad there’s an answer for Addyson now.”

But the Bentons first needed a doctor willing to sign the Ohio recommendation for Addyson. Help came from another veteran of the Issue 3 campaign.

Rob Ryan is executive director of the advocacy group Ohio Patient Network and was elected last fall to the Blue Ash City Council. At Addyson’s birthday party, Ryan said he reached out to the Bentons because “I wanted to do whatever I could to help them come home.”

With Ryan’s guidance, Gedde, the Colorado doctor, underwent the Ohio program’s doctor qualification and this spring wrote the recommendation so the Bentons could keep medical marijuana for Addyson in Ohio. With the doctor’s signature in hand, the Bentons loaded up a truck again and headed east with their patches, oils, tinctures and other forms of marijuana that work for Addyson.

The Bentons have settled in Hamilton County’s Sycamore Township, where they believe law enforcement will respect their doctor’s recommendation. County Prosecutor Joe Deters, for example, was one of the few Ohio elected officials who backed Issue 3.

At Addyson’s birthday party, the Bentons, their family and friends gathered around Addyson, who beamed as everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”

“Blow it out,” Adam Benton prompted his daughter, pointing at the number six candle. She looked around at the gathering of smiling faces. “Blow it out,” her father urged again. Addyson tried one, two, three puffs, then the flame went out. Everyone applauded.

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