Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Dec. 20, 2013
They've been described as an electrical storm in the brain.
Seizures occur when large numbers of the cells that transmit information to muscles fire uncontrollably, causing everything from staring spells and twitches to falling, loss of consciousness and full-body convulsions. Anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent of children with a seizure disorder - also known as epilepsy - experience seizures that can't be relieved by pharmaceutical medications.
Now these young patients' parents think they've found something that can repress the seizures. The problem is that it's illegal under federal law. The federal prohibition against marijuana intersects with Maine's medical marijuana statutes in a way that poses major roadblocks to families and shows the need for federal action to ease these draconian limits.
The strain of marijuana that's been in the spotlight is called "Charlotte's Web," named for the child who was having 300 grand mal seizures a week but is 99 percent seizure-free after two years of treatment with the substance.
Charlotte's Web is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC - which produces the classic "high" - and rich in cannabidiol, or CBD - which is believed to be medicinal. (In children, the drug is taken in a liquid form that can be put into food or under the tongue.)
But Maine parents have had a hard time obtaining Charlotte's Web. It's apparently not being grown here. And it's illegal to buy clones of the plant in Colorado, where it was developed, and bring them back to Maine. Anyone who imports a federally outlawed substance across state lines (even to take a child to an out-of-state doctor) could be charged with trafficking. Because of these strictures, an Acton woman whose child has severe epilepsy is setting up a second household for her family in Colorado. (About 100 families from across the country have relocated to Colorado for the same reason.)
Meanwhile, federal regulators have denied that marijuana is a medicine, while obstructing the research process that medications must undergo to get federal approval. Of the Schedule I controlled drugs (with no known benefits and a "high capacity for abuse"), LSD and heroin can be produced by private labs for scientific research - but marijuana can't. Just one federal facility can produce and distribute the plant for federally approved study.
What's more, the mission of the agency that oversees the facility is to demonstrate the harms of drug consumption. This drastically slows research into marijuana's medical properties.
It's good news that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first formal U.S. trials of cannabidiol, in the form of a high-CBD medication for severe epilepsy in children. To encourage more such study, some want to remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances altogether (a bill to do that went nowhere in the U.S. House last session). Others want to recategorize it as a Schedule II drug, like certain opioids and stimulants, with both a risk of abuse and accepted medical uses.
Right now, reclassifying the plant, we believe, is the least the U.S. government can do to facilitate the kind of rigorous evaluation that's needed to determine the appropriate, physician-supervised doses and uses of medical marijuana - and to give patients and their families the relief they haven't been able to find elsewhere.
Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, Dec. 18, 2013
A natural gas pipeline along the state's western corridor would extend both economic relief and more opportunities through Addison County down to the Rutland area.
Building the pipeline would bring to the people and businesses of that region the option of a cleaner and more cost effective energy alternative than fuel oil.
This is no developing energy source that holds the promise of cleaner, cheaper power sometime in the future. This is a proven technology, in everyday use around the country.
So far, the benefits of natural gas has been largely confined to the northwestern corner of Vermont.
The Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project would extend the fuel's reach down to the state's second most populous region, aiding households and employers.
Natural gas is one of a few solutions to Vermont's long-term energy needs. Not perfect, natural gas is a fossil fuel that releases greenhouse gasses when burned, adding to the state's carbon footprint and contributing to climate change.
In addition, the concerns of property owners, through whose land the gas pipeline must pass, must be taken seriously.
Many people also have serious concerns about the environmental impact of extracting the gas from the ground.
A major controversy centers around hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which involves injecting water mixed with various chemicals under high pressure underground to force out gas embedded in rock formations.
The reality is, every energy option — even renewables — requires a trade-off.
Large-scale wind projects have stirred up controversy about carving up the state's ridgelines. Solar farms are often built on open land. Smaller scale renewable options often are available only to those who can afford them.
But taking advantage of an available source of cheaper and cleaner fuel is a reasonable and pragmatic bridge to a renewable energy future.
Those who fear natural gas would serve as a disincentive for finding greener alternatives lack sufficient faith in this state's commitment to renewable energy.
Foregoing existing alternatives in favor of a purist approach would mean inflicting unnecessary hardship on those Vermonters who can least afford to bear the burden.
What a tiny state does may have little, if any, impact on global markets and overall climate change, but setting an example can have an impact far beyond Vermont's size.
Vermont must continue its drive to wean the state from fossil fuels, especially the dirtiest varieties imported from politically unstable regions of the world.
Natural gas is not the final answer, but a reasonable and economical bridge to help Vermont get to a renewable future.