Appeal hearings begin on medical marijuana treatment for autism

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A group of moms made their case before a judge that their autistic children should be allowed to use medical cannabis. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A group of moms made their case before a judge that their autistic children should be allowed to use medical cannabis. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Brandy Williams brought her 7-year-old son Logan to the hearing. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Brandy Williams brought her 7-year-old son Logan to the hearing. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Technically, she's allowed to give him medical marijuana for his seizures, not his autism, but she says the plant has had life-changing effects on him and their family. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Technically, she's allowed to give him medical marijuana for his seizures, not his autism, but she says the plant has had life-changing effects on him and their family. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The judge cannot compel the Department of Health Services to add autism to the list of qualifying conditions. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The judge cannot compel the Department of Health Services to add autism to the list of qualifying conditions. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

A group of Arizona moms fighting for permission to treat their kids’ autism with medical marijuana began pleading their case Tuesday before a judge.

Arizona Moms Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism filed a petition last year to add autism to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. The Arizona Department of Health Services denied the petition, so the moms appealed.

The hearing Tuesday was the first of two days of testimony in the appeal case filed by the moms.

They’re hoping the administrative appeal will be a turning point in their fight. By July, eight states will allow individuals with autism to qualify for medical marijuana.

[RELATED: Some parents praise cannabis to treat autism, other disorders despite lack of research (May 18, 2017)]

"My son spoke for the first time in his life because of medical cannabis," said Brandy Williams of AZ MAMMA.

Williams brought her 7-year-old son Logan to the hearing.

Technically, she's allowed to give him medical marijuana for his seizures, not his autism, but she says the plant has had life-changing effects on him and their family.

"I'm not afraid to give my son a hug anymore. We don't have to walk on eggshells all the time. I can let my guard down and my son can just play, instead of just rage all the time," Williams said.

[RELATED: Arizona moms want lawmakers to 'legalize autism' for cannabis treatment]

Other moms who have not been able to qualify their children for cannabis treatments brought pictures but kept their kids at home.

"I have scars all over my body from her scratching me and biting," said Brittney Crank of her autistic daughter.

Angela Wilson drove nearly five hours to attend the hearing. She said she was desperate for an alternative treatment to her son’s autism.

"The only medicines we have access to right now without a qualifying condition are pharmaceuticals and those hold a long list of harmful side effects," she said.

In cross-examination, attorneys for the Department of Health Services suggested there isn't enough evidence on the benefits of cannabis on autism.

Experts brought in by the moms said there is.

"If you catch it early in the first developmental symptoms, you can affect a major benefit," testified Dr. Judy A. Mikovits, a former researcher at the National Cancer Institute.

Testimony will continue Wednesday morning. The judge is expected to issue a decision on whether the state improperly rejected the moms’ petition within the next three weeks.

The judge cannot compel the Department of Health Services to add autism to the list of qualifying conditions, according to the attorney representing the moms, Sonia Martinez. However, Martinez said administrative hearings like these typically carry significant weight with the department.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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