Credit: Leslie Johns
Families struggle as slow rollout of Georgia’s medical cannabis program delays relief
At 13, Darrell Johns of Macon weighed just 40 pounds and endured at least five seizures a week, said his mom and full-time caregiver Leslie Johns.
“I was having to crush 17 pills a day to run through his G tube, and he was still having seizures,” she said. “And the Diastat, which is Valium, that I would have to give him as a rescue, it would make him sleep for days because he was so tiny and it made him so groggy.”
Now 21, Darrell, who family members call Peanut, is doing much better, Johns said. He started taking medical cannabis in 2015 and went without a single seizure for more than a year.
Johns said Darrell, who was born with hydrocephalus and seizures, spoke his first word soon after starting the treatment.
“Him and my daughter were both in the living room. And I heard ‘Mama.’ And I said ‘What, Brianna?’ And I heard it again, ‘Mama.’ And I looked around the corner to say ‘What, Brianna?’ Well, Brianna was asleep. But I looked over at Peanut and he said, ‘Mama.’ And I just sat on the kitchen floor. And he got down. He cannot walk, but he scoots on his bottom. He scooted to the kitchen, and my husband came out because he heard what was going on. He said, ‘Peanut, who is that?’ He looked at him, he said, ‘Mama.’ It was history from there. I cried for days.”
Johns said Darrell now weighs in at 100 pounds, speaks about 10 to 15 words and only has a seizure every two or three months. Johns only has to feed Darrell two pills each day now, and the young man has more time to relax and do his favorite things, like going for rides on his dad’s sidecar or watching his favorite TV shows — The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
But Johns and other caregivers say recent glitches have led to problems getting or renewing medical cannabis cards in Georgia.
After years of courtroom and legislative back-and-forth, the first legal dispensaries opened in Georgia this year. The state law allows products that contain a low amount of THC, the chemical that gets marijuana users high.
Patients must be diagnosed with one of a list of specific serious conditions and renew their licenses every two years. Johns said she filed to renew her card in April ahead of its June expiration, but despite calls to the Georgia Department of Public Health and the cooperation of Darrell’s doctor, she has yet to get the card.
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.