Connor Sheffield, a sophomore at Havre de Grace High School, is scheduled to testify in Annapolis this week during Maryland Senate and House of Delegates committee hearings on legislation that, if passed, would require state officials to develop guidelines so public school students can take medical cannabis — as prescribed — on school grounds.
Connor, 15, takes medical cannabis to treat gastrointestinal dysmotility, a condition he has had since he was a child. He was diagnosed at age 11 after symptoms, such as pain, nausea, difficulty swallowing and loss of appetite, became severe enough to disrupt his life a year or two prior to the diagnosis.
“Health-wise, I feel better than I [ever] have; I can’t say there’s been a better time than the present,” Connor said Wednesday evening after the Havre de Grace City Council unanimously approved a resolution expressing the city’s support for House Bill 331 and Senate Bill 605.
The special meeting was an opportunity to show the city’s support for Connor before he testifies on the legislation, plus recognize him after state Comptroller Peter Franchot visited Havre de Grace Jan. 31 to honor the teen and his commitment to help others and stay involved in his hobby of auto racing despite his condition.
Connor has been taking medical cannabis since December 2018, but he is not allowed to take it on school grounds. He has to take the medication “as needed,” usually three to four times a day, so he must leave campus, meet his parents and take his dose if the need arises during school hours.
He and his family have spent the past year trying to find a way to take medical cannabis at school. Connor could take it in the nurse’s office, “just like any other medicine,” if the legislation passes, according to his mother, Tricia Sheffield.
“We really hope in earnest that the legislators in Annapolis do the right thing and make this possible for not just yourself, but everyone in your situation,” Mayor William T. Martin said, addressing Connor from the dais.
The House bill, also known as “Connor’s Courage,” is sponsored by Harford County Dels. Mary Ann Lisanti and Steve Johnson, both Democrats, and their colleagues, Republican Dels. Joseph Boteler III and Robin Grammer Jr. of Baltimore County.
Sen. Brian Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, is sponsoring the Senate version. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. The House version will be subject to a hearing Wednesday before the Health and Government Operations Committee.
Connor is scheduled to testify at both hearings. The bills require the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to develop guidelines so students who are authorized to take medical cannabis can do so during school hours or after-school activities sponsored by the school, according to the Maryland General Assembly website.
Lisanti, the lead sponsor on the House bill, said she met the Sheffields by happenstance last March when she was out at dinner and wanted to help after hearing Connor's story.
Since then, she’s learned there are about 200 school-aged youth in public schools statewide who are licensed to use medical cannabis.
“When the policy was developed, I think there was an oversight,” Listanti said. “No one thought, these are school-aged kids, but how do they have access? That logical conclusion was just missed.”
MSDE already has an elaborate policy regarding how to deal with every medication that students may be using, she said.
“There a lot of kids taking a lot of really serious medicine already,” Lisanti said. “That framework is already there, this just includes medical cannabis for licensed patients as part of that.”
She called the bill “narrowly focused and very conservative.”
Johnson, who owns a pharmacy in Aberdeen with his wife, said he was thinking about the future when co-sponsoring the legislation.
“If it’s legal and they have a prescription, and they have a card they should not discriminate against those kids, they should have every right to get their medication as the other kids in school as long as they do it through the nurse and it’s controlled,” he said.
Opposition to the bill, he said, may come from people who still don’t understand how medical cannabis works.
“The mental picture you get is kids sitting around smoking joints, which, that’s not the case,” Johnson said.
Connor, for example, takes a few drops of liquid under his tongue a couple times per day, Johnson said, “and since then he’s gained weight back, he’s off his feeding tube, he’s active again.”
Havre de Grace Councilman Jason Robertson and Council President David Glenn lauded Connor and his family for their activities — Connor attended with his parents, Michael and Tricia, and his paternal grandparents, Connie and Ron Sheffield, who live in Pasadena in Anne Arundel County.
“Kudos to the Sheffields; you guys are so awesome,” said Robertson, who also said he thought it was “pretty special, pretty fantastic” for the mayor to call the special meeting.
Glenn gave Connor a boost, noting the youth had expressed some apprehension about testifying before senators.
“You don’t need to be nervous,” Glenn said. “They need to be nervous because you’re the unsung hero — you’re the inspiration.”
“You have a great story to tell, and I have full confidence that, next week, you’re going to tell it,” Glenn added.
Councilman David Martin gave Connor another piece of encouragement after the council adopted the resolution. Martin gave him a challenge coin with the city seal on one side and a Maryland State Police badge on the other.
Martin is a 20-year veteran of the State Police who medically retired after being injured in the line of duty.
“Don’t let anybody scare you, you’ve got it,” he told Connor.
Tricia Sheffield encouraged anyone who wants to show support, including other parents whose children use medical cannabis, to attend the hearings. People can send an email to email@example.com for more information.
“Just being there is huge, to show your support is huge,” she said.
Medical cannabis became legal in Maryland in 2013, and the number of dispensaries has grown over the years as each business clears the Medical Cannabis Commission’s extensive review process.
Connor said he felt improvements in his health “within minutes” after the first time he took medical cannabis.
“I was hungry for the first time, and I didn’t have any pain or nausea,” he said.
Connor said he was “living in the hospital” before and had no appetite, plus significant pain and nausea. His mother said a feeding tube was removed from the center of his stomach last month.
Connor’s daily intake of medical cannabis has about 15 milligrams of THC — the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives users a high — compared to 150 to 200 mg of THC in one average marijuana joint.
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“That’s all it takes,” he said of the 15 daily milligrams. “Some days, it’s less.”
Connor got into auto racing because his condition made it too difficult to play active sports such as baseball, football, soccer or even golf. He participates in “quarter midget” racing, in which youths drive cars that are scaled down to a quarter of the size of the typical “midget racer,” according to the Quarter Midgets of America website, on oval tracks approximately 1/20 of a mile.
More information about Connor’s racing career is online at the Connor Sheffield Racing page on Facebook.
The comptroller recognized Connor last month for his passion for racing as well as his efforts to promote the development of a pediatric motility center at Johns Hopkins Hospital to support other children with gastrointestinal motility conditions and find a cure for his condition, according to a news release from Franchot’s office.
“He’s very selfless,” Connie Sheffield said of her grandson. “He really doesn’t think about himself as much he thinks about the other kids.”
Connor and his parents said legislators they have met in Annapolis have expressed support ahead of the hearings — Michael Sheffield said his son has been “like a rock star” in the state capital.
“It just makes sense to me,” he said of passing the legislation. “It’s the right thing to do.”