source: Written by Mark Sommerhauser

Watching his daughter suffer has turned Ryan Hiltner into an unlikely political advocate.

Ryan and Jenny Hiltner’s 7-year-old daughter, Amaya, has a form of epilepsy that hasn’t responded well to traditional treatment. Amaya has as many as 30 seizures a day. During some of them, her arms jerk and she stares straight ahead, unable to speak.

The seizures make it impossible for Amaya to do things she used to love, such as ride her bike. And the seizures can have lasting effects, heightening the urgency to find an effective treatment for the St. Cloud family.

“You don’t know if the next seizure is going to be the catastrophic one,” Ryan Hiltner said.

Now the Hiltners say one of the few remaining options to treat Amaya’s epilepsy may be a drug they can’t buy legally in Minnesota: medical marijuana. The Hiltners say their research shows that liquids derived from the marijuana plant have been effective in treating some people with severe epilepsy.

“She’s suffering every time she has a seizure,” Ryan Hiltner said. “Do we know that it’s going to work? No. Do we deserve access? Absolutely.”

Minnesota proponents of medical marijuana say it could give a new and potent form of relief to people with debilitating illnesses such as epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic severe pain. They say the state’s 2014 legislative session, which starts Tuesday, may be the best chance in years for Minnesota to join the 20 other states that have legalized marijuana for medical use.

Opponents, led by law enforcement groups, say legalizing medical marijuana could make the drug more accessible to people who just want to get high. Such groups say marijuana’s medical benefits remain unproven, that current proposals wouldn’t provide sufficient oversight of people, doctors or facilities that would use, recommend, grow or sell the drug, and that legalizing medical marijuana would put Minnesota on a path to full-scale legalization.

Dayton’s stance key

At the center of the debate is Gov. Mark Dayton, whose stance could determine if medical marijuana becomes law in 2014.


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