To say Colorado state Rep. Lois Landgraf loves pot is like setting up a punch line. The Republican from Fountain, however, thinks sick kids are no laughing matter.
“I’ve always been against marijuana, but this isn’t that,” she said over the phone one evening about a pot-related bill she fought for last legislative session. She was ahead of her time.
On June 25, the Food and Drug Administration approved the cannabidiol (CBD) product Epidiolex, the first federally sanctioned marijuana-derived medicine.
The government says chemicals from sativa cannabis provide an effective, safe treatment for seizures in children associated with two severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. In FDA trails, children saw reductions in seizures as high as 50 percent on the pot-derived drug.
Last session, Landgraf navigated House Bill 1187 into state law. The legislation held that when the FDA approved it, then marijuana-based products would be deemed medicine and no longer state-regulated “marijuana.” They would be sold in a pharmacy instead of at a pot shop.
In March, Landgraf told a House committee that Dravet syndrome can cause seizures from changes in temperature, “such as a warm bath. Can you imagine?” Lennox-Gastaut syndrome causes multiple seizures a day. Both have high a mortality rate.
She benefited from a trio of well-respected co-sponsors: Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, the former Weld County sheriff; and two of the statehouse’s most respected advocates for young people, Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City; and Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora.
“Without this bill, severely ill epileptic kids in Colorado will not have access to a prescription medicine approved by the FDA that their doctors can prescribe,” Buckner told the committee.
The perception of pot as normalized medicine breaks down barriers of perception, including that Republicans won’t support pot bills. They have, very much so, yet with nuanced regulatory reasoning, not for the joy of toking up. And the perception that Democrats are always on board is faulty, too.
Colorado Politics told you in May that Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a medicinal pot bill that would have made autism a qualifying reason for medical marijuana. He and physicians groups said there wasn’t enough research, so Hickenlooper instead ordered the state Department of Public Health & Environment to look into the risk and rewards of pot for autism before proceeding.
The FDA stamp of approval on CBD is the highest standard of research.
“Now it’s a pharmaceutical, and you can buy it in a drug store,” Landgraf told me. “It’s not something you buy out of one of these shops you see driving down the street where people are out front spinning a sign. ... If this was about marijuana, I wouldn’t be for it.”
Furthermore, she’s been skeptical of how medical marijuana licenses work in Colorado. It makes no sense to Landgraf that a person can get a medical marijuana card for a specific ailment, then go to a store and buy any product it sells. That’s a loophole to sell more pot, in her view.
The medical uses of marijuana should not be brushed aside just because of the origin of its ingredients, either.
“It should have to have a prescription for a specific need,” Landgraf said. “If you get a prescription for, say, penicillin, you should only be able to get penicillin. That’s how medicine works. That’s how any medicine should work.”
In the case of Epidiolex, she said, “This is a drug that’s changing children’s lives.”
The Colorado law takes effect on Aug. 8, so the product will be available for doctors to prescribe and traditional pharmacies to supply as soon as the market responds to the new state and federal approvals. Last spring, Landgraf saw no reason to wait on the feds to act first.
“We bring this bill to you today for one reason,” she told the first House committee to consider it in March. “We’re in a hurry, and so are the people, especially the children, who will benefit from the use of this medicine. We know this. The FDA knows this, and today we want you to know this.”
The committee unanimously passed the bill and sent it to the House floor.
Landgraf has made her mark in the statehouse on veterans’ issues, and she’s been willing to join hands with Democrats on the right tasks.
Last session, for example, she worked with Rep. Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, to pass House Bill 1078 to better connect veterans in the court system with programs for mental health, substance abuse and other challenges.
This summer she’s working on a bill to create the Colorado Green Alert System. Wisconsin became the first state to set up a rapid-alert system last spring to get the public involved in helping find missing veterans deemed vulnerable, like the Amber Alert for children. Landgraf thinks such a system could be vital in preventing suicides in military members suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“I wanted to call it the Khaki Alert,” she joked.
When I said I thought “green alert” meant she was carrying another pot bill, she didn’t think that was funny.
But helping others definitely makes Landgraf smile.