FAIRMONT - Proposed legislation to legalize medicinal marijuana has one local woman watching closely.
For Jamee LaRow of rural Welcome, whose 6-year-old son Ashtyn Senne suffers from partial complex seizures, medicinal marijuana could be the one thing that helps him.
Ashtyn's seizures began in 2010, but quickly escalated.
"It started that he would just stare off," LaRow recalled. "But it was for less than 30 seconds. But then there was the breathing, and the lip smacking. He would always be very tired, almost feverish, after these episodes."
It wasn't until nearly a year and a half later that doctors were able to diagnose Ashtyn with intractable epilepsy.
Meanwhile, his behaviors also were changing. He was put on medications for attention deficit disorder.
"It worked for a short while," LaRow said. "Then there were other meds. He had MRIs, blood work, genetics, everything. There was no clear answer to what was happening to him, and they couldn't pinpoint where the seizures were originating."
Doctors finally were able to diagnose that the seizures were occurring in the frontal temporal lobe in the left hemisphere in Ashtyn's brain.
"That's where the behaviors, the cognitive all originate," LaRow said.
With the diagnosis came more difficult news: there is only a 5 to 10 percent chance of recovery from his partial complex seizures. Surgery is not an option.
"He's on his sixth anti-epileptic drug now, and it's not helping," LaRow said. "He's also had a lot of side effects from the AEDs. He went from 55 pounds to almost 100 pounds, the anxiety, the behaviors ... I feel like I totally wrecked my kid."
Ashtyn began kindergarten this year, and after five days in school, he suddenly began acting out violently.
"That was when the nightmare began," LaRow said. "He was throwing chairs, knocking over bookshelves, hitting, kicking, sometimes even biting, calling names. Things he never did before."
The result: more consulting with doctors and school officials. Ashtyn is now down to two hours of regular school time.
"It's hard," LaRow admits. "He's smart, but he doesn't want to go to school. The anxiety for him is overwhelming. I can only imagine how scary it is for him when he's in this rage he can't control."
It was one of the helpers on the family farm who spoke to LaRow about medicinal marijuana.
"He's in his 50s, and he ran a marijuana dispensary in California," LaRow said. "He told me about how the oil can be extracted from the plant ... I knew nothing about marijuana. I've never smoked it."
But because LaRow did include supplements and essential oils for Ashtyn, she was open to the idea and did some research. At the same time, she joined a Facebook support group, where she learned about other parents who support the legalization of medicinal marijuana, and the positive effects.
"There is a strain that is high in CBD, a sativa cannabidiol, which is the medicinal property, and very low in THC - tetrahydrocannabinol - which is what gets people high," LaRow said. "There is one family who reported with the use, their child went down from 300 seizures a week to one or two in just a few months."
LaRow realizes that many people in the community are not open to the idea of medicinal marijuana.
"I don't want to force my opinion on anyone, but why can't we have the choice of how to treat this," she said. "I've worried about what will people say, will they think I'm some crackpot? But then I don't really care when I'm trying to help my child."
Her son has never been treated with marijuana, so it is unknown just how it would affect him.
"I am a safe person; I don't want to do something that's illegal," LaRow said.
While the proposed bill to legalize medicinal marijuana in Minnesota passed through a state House committee Tuesday, it still has a long way to go, and faces opposition from law enforcement organizations.
The bill would allow patients with debilitating health conditions access to medical marijuana so long as a doctor or designated health professional certified they were likely to benefit.
An informal law enforcement coalition issued a list of requirements for the proposal, including that the drug must come only in pill, liquid or vapor form.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will not support the bill unless he has the support of law enforcement. He wants proponents of the bill and law enforcement officials to work out a compromise.
A similar bill that passed through the Legislature in 2009 was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
However, there is support for the bill from other organizations. The Epilepsy Foundation has stated it supports research on the potential anti-epileptic effects of CBD. The current trend of other states legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, and two states - Colorado and Washington - legalizing marijuana for non-medicinal purposes indicates shifting attitudes toward it.
"I know there has been argument about the effects it will have on the brain, but look what the pharmaceuticals have done to my son already," LaRow said. "I just want help for my child and whatever's going to give him quality of life."
Meanwhile, Ashtyn has picked up support from local family and friends. Ashtyn's dad races Hobby Stocks at the Fairmont Raceway.
"We've gotten a lot of support from local racers and friends," said LaRow. "So we came up with: Team Ashtyn Racing for Hope for a Cure. I also have some bracelets that say, 'I wear purple for Ashtyn Senne.' They are $5 a piece and the money goes to his prescriptions and doctor bills. He loves monster trucks and he loves racing, but with his behaviors, he's only been out to the track one or two times.
"I don't want Ashtyn to be labeled either, but I'm afraid it's too late. He is a smart and sweet child," she added. "I just want my Ashtyn to be able to get the medicine he needs and deserves."