Her kid needs CBD to control his seizures. A new Iowa law makes it a crime

Abram Miller, 11, center, hugs his mom, Erin Farquhar, at right, as James Farquhar sits at left. Abram takes CBD medication from Colorado to control his seizures and behavior issues. Now, that medication is illegal for anyone under 21 to consume. (Courtesy Erin Farquhar)

Abram Miller, 11, center, hugs his mom, Erin Farquhar, at right, as James Farquhar sits at left. Abram takes CBD medication from Colorado to control his seizures and behavior issues. Now, that medication is illegal for anyone under 21 to consume. (Courtesy Erin Farquhar)

By Amie Rivers

May 17, 2024

In trying to prevent Iowans from accessing THC in consumable hemp, Republicans now made it illegal for parents to give their children CBD—for some, the only seizure medication that works.

Dallas Center mom Erin Farquhar remembers lobbying Iowa legislators years ago to legalize the CBD medication she needs to keep her son’s seizures and behavioral issues stable.

But on Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a new rule that criminalizes the only medication that can help him.

What’s the new law?

Faced with the proliferation of hemp-derived THC, thanks to the last Farm Bill opening up the hemp industry, Iowa Republicans wanted to cut down on products that Iowans were able to get.

But lobbying helped kill that part of the bill (which I wrote about here), and products like THC drinks won’t really be affected.

What will be affected, however, is cannabidiol, or CBD. Used in a variety of medical ways in other states—and in Iowa’s limited medical cannabis market—it’s been found in scientific studies to be useful at reducing the severity of seizures in those with complex medical conditions, like Farquhar’s son.

But the bill now bars anyone under 21 from possessing or consuming it, as well as makes it a crime for a caregiver to give it to their child. That means every time Farquhar gives her 11-year-old son the only medication that works, both will be breaking the law.

“I have concerns about this bill and have heard from individuals and groups on both sides of the issue,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Ultimately, I am signing it into law to protect minors from dangerous and intoxicating products.

“At the same time,” Reynolds added, “we’ve taken steps to ensure that children who are resistant to medications and suffer from seizures and other medical conditions continue to have access to consumable hemp alternatives for relief.”

It is unclear what “steps” were included, as the law makes no exemption for those children, nor their caregivers.

Farquhar and others from the Epilepsy Foundation met with members of Reynolds’ staff, trying to get an amendment to the bill or a last-minute veto.

“The fact that the Iowa Legislature has essentially made that illegal for me to give to my child because he’s under the age of 21 is ridiculous,” Farquhar said.

Read: Harsh: lowa Republicans tried to crack down on THC drinks

Abram’s CBD journey

Farquhar’s son, Abram Miller, was born with a mutation in one of his genes, UBE2A. That caused a whole host of medical complications for baby Abram.

“He had his first seizure by the time his first birthday hit. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t crawl,” Farquhar said. “There wasn’t really much doctors knew what to do for him.”

Finally, a neurologist pulled her into an empty hospital room and told her that, though he couldn’t officially prescribe it, patients like Abram had seen successful treatment from CBD. At that time, the closest state to get it was Colorado.

“So I started my son on CBD in 2015 when he was just three,” she said. “And, although he still has abnormal activity in his brain, he has not had an ambulance ride or a grand mal seizure in almost nine years.”

Read: Iowa Misses Out As People Cross Border For Legal Illinois Marijuana

Erin’s advocacy journey

Seeing how CBD made a huge difference in Abram’s life, Farquhar has become an advocate for its legalization over the years, meeting with state legislators to educate them on the benefits Abram is seeing and the need for it to be and remain legal to help kids with autism and other conditions, too.

The new law, however, puts restrictions on any “consumable hemp” product. It not only makes it a misdemeanor crime to “sell, give, or otherwise distribute a consumable hemp product to a person under twenty-one years of age,” it also mandates civil penalties and “unpaid community service” for people under 21 who consume or possess it.

And that’s not even counting the state and federal laws Farquhar is breaking each time she drives to Colorado to re-up Abram’s medication, which she continues to do even with CBD oil available in Iowa.

“I can’t afford the CBD that’s at the [Iowa] dispensary,” Farquhar said.

She said a 2-ounce bottle of CBD oil is $150 in Colorado, whereas that amount at an Iowa dispensary would set her back $520—and she’d have to switch brands, something she’s loathe to do.

“The Epilepsy Foundation [says] once you find a medication that works for your child with seizure control, you don’t switch it, because you might not ever be able to get that seizure control back,” Farquhar said. She said Iowa dispensary CBD products also included sucralose, a “known seizure trigger.”

Read: Biden pardons thousands of Americans convicted of marijuana possession

‘Really scary’

Farquhar was disappointed legislators didn’t seem to care about families like hers.

“We really fought to get this here in Iowa 10 years ago. And now, it’s like there’s new folks in there that have never heard our story, have no idea who we are, or what CBD does to help families like mine,” she said.

Farquhar said the new law puts an unnecessary target on the backs of parents trying to help their children.

“To just, across the board, make it illegal for me to even let my son have it, is really scary—and put parents with these medically complex kids in a pretty gray area-slash-danger zone for legal repercussions,” Farquhar added. “That’s really scary to think about.”

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.

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