April 2 is National Autism Day. It's also the day Gov. Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 1028, which would allow children on the autism spectrum to use medical marijuana to treat symptoms.
The bill is the second-year effort of Reps. Edie Hooton, Democrat of Boulder, and Kim Ransom, Republican of Lone Tree, who tried but failed last year to persuade Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign the 2018 version.
Hickenlooper cited a lack of scientific research into the efficacy of medical marijuana for treating autism. He authorized the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to do a two-year study, but the department instead is looking at CBD oil.
Polis had no such qualms, promising during the 2018 campaign he would sign the bill if it reached his desk.
On Tuesday, Polis was surrounded by families who have been advocating for the law for the last two years.
In signing House Bill 1028 into law, "we are expanding patient access to cannabis products for those with autism," Polis said. "Cannabis can be a game-changer for those with autism," he added.
This bill allows that access in a way "that is safe for families. ... We should err on the side of patient access" and for families who live with autism every day, the governor added.
Hooton said that families came to her two years ago, after failing to obtain help from the Hickenlooper administration.
"This is a victory for these families," she said. "It is such a privilege and honor to really make a difference for families who have been suffering with children with severe autism spectrum disorder."
Jackie Bess of Aurora and her son, Jackson, attended the signing. "Many families with autism struggle," she told Colorado Politics.
The Bess family has tried 10 different medications to help Jackson, but it was medical marijuana that helped, she said. Her son is doing better in school, tolerates frustration better and his grades have improved, to the amazement of his school, she said.
Michelle Walker has helped lead the fight in Colorado for the use of medical marijuana for autism. Her son, who has severe autism, has been able to use it for several years because he also has a seizure disorder that already qualifies under state law for medical marijuana.
"This bill is a source of hope for many families that are looking for options to help their children," Walker told Colorado Politics. Medical marijuana has been a great tool for her son to help with his aggressive behavior, handling high-pressure situations -- like a bill signing, with TV lights and cameras and a lot of people -- and he handled it very calmly, she said. In addition, his cognitive abilities have blossomed and he has taught himself to read.