for The Daily Beast

Mark and Christy Zartlers’ 18-year-old daughter, Kara, has cerebral palsy and a severe form of autism that includes Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB). When Kara is agitated, she punches herself in the head; on multiple occasions, she’s broken bones in her face. She’s nonverbal, which makes it difficult for the Zartlers to understand what’s inciting her self-injurious behavior (professionals say there can be a wide range of instigating factors) and intervene.

The family has tried dozens of medications prescribed by Kara’s doctors, as well as occupational and behavioral therapies. There’s only one substance that stops Kara’s self-injury within a matter of minutes: cannabis.

But in Texas, it’s not so simple. Zartler happens to live in the district represented by Pete Sessions (no relation to attorney general Jeff), who is the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, which has federal marijuana laws under its wings. Sessions is on a mission to reduce access to medical marijuana.

He’s also running for re-election this year against Colin Allred, a pro- medical marijuana candidate who has a real chance at winning the district.

It’s an election that could change Kara’s life.


Texas technically does have medical cannabis legislation, but it’s among the most restrictive in the country. Intractable epilepsy is the only qualifying condition, and the only form of cannabis those patients are permitted is high CBD, low THC. (Because Kara’s self-injury is a behavioral issue as opposed to neurological, it’s THC, not CBD, that stabilizes her mood.)

In 2017, Kara Zartler’s father, Mark, posted a viral video to Facebook of Kara receiving a cannabis treatment. By law, the Zartlers can’t treat Kara with cannabis in Texas—but they wanted to show other families with self-injuring autistic children how much it helped her. They also wanted to catch the attention of lawmakers like Sessions in a position to create and pass comprehensive medical marijuana legislation. Continued