An 11-month-old California boy was taken into protective custody because his parents have legal prescriptions for medical marijuana.
His mother, Shawnee Anderson, 27, and her boyfriend, the baby’s father, 34-year-old Aaron Hillyer, pleaded with police on their front lawn in Northern California for their baby. Police were responding to a call about a domestic dispute. The couple had apparently had a loud argument.
The home was in disarray and their marijuana was out. That's when the officers took their son, Sage, into protective custody.
“I told them we had our cards, our prescriptions,” said Anderson. “They didn’t want to see them.”
“I was pleading with them, ‘Look, you guys, I understand your perception, but we are wonderful parents, hardworking members of our community,’” Hillyer told CNN. “They could not conceive of the fact that you can be a wonderful parent, a decent human being, and medicate with marijuana.”
"I want you to understand that your baby doesn't need to be subjected to marijuana," an officer told Shawnee in an audio recording she made on her cell phone.
“What makes you think he is?” she asks.
“Because your house really smells bad of marijuana,” he replied.
Child Protective Services told CNN that the department does not differentiate between medical marijuana and illegal marijuana.
"CPS handles (cases) the same way regardless of what the drug ... is," said Michael Weston, deputy director of public affairs and outreach programs at the California Department of Social Services. "Everything is weighed in reference to, 'Is this a danger to the child? Is there a potential harm to the child? Is this showing signs of abuse or neglect?'"
The couple’s attorney, Jennifer Ani, says CPS needs to look deeper into their policy regarding legal medical marijuana.
“What the social worker’s supposed to do is look on a case-by-case basis at individual circumstances, and that’s what’s not happening,” Ani said.
Doting parents who are gainfully employed across the country are facing similar custody issues.
Maria Green, a medical marijuana patient in Lansing, Mich., says her 6-month-old daughter was taken from her for two months. Green is prescribed medical marijuana for her multiple sclerosis. Her husband also has a prescription to treat epilepsy.
When recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the go-to joke for news anchors and pundits (after “munchies” references, of course) was that there would be a parade of stoners moving to the state. Little did anyone think that families with children suffering from conditions that result in crippling seizures would be part of that parade.
According to the Associated Press, “an influx of families with seizure-stricken children” are moving to Colorado in search of a specific strain of medical pot called “Charlotte’s Web.” The strain was named after Charlotte Figi, a girl whose quality of life drastically improved while taking the drug. When Charlotte was five years old, her doctors “were out of ideas.” Her mother sought out medical marijuana as a last resort.
THC, the psychoactive compound in pot, is known to make seizure conditions worse. However, another active chemical in the plant is CBD, which is known to lessen the likelihood of seizures. Charlotte's Web uses a strain of marijuana low in THC but high in CBD, developed by a family of growers. The CBD is extracted from the plant by a chemist, who used to work for Pfizer, and then sent to a third-party lab for purity testing.
Unlike other types of medical marijuana, such as those used to manage pain or increase appetite, this strain has no potential for abuse, since there is no THC present in the final product. However, many critics believe that the push for medical marijuana is simply a backdoor method of legalization.
“When you talk about medical marijuana and you go to a research organization like a National Institutes of Health ... there is absolutely zero scientific support for smoking marijuana and believing that it has any successful impact on anything,” said Gen. Barry McCaffery, former drug czar for President Bill Clinton, last December while being interviewed at the First Annual Veteran Courts Convention in Washington, D.C.
Yet, in this case, no one is smoking anything, and it’s still illegal. Because of the black-market nature of this drug, desperate parents can find themselves susceptible to misinformation. One case reported by the AP involved parents who were told they could make the drug at home but were given dosage was incorrect, so their child’s seizures worsened.
Thus, parents are calling for states to make at least this low-THC, high-CBD strain legal and as carefully made as the kind which seemingly worked for Charlotte Figi. There have been no peer-reviewed studies as of yet, which could happen concurrently with legalization, but Charlotte's Web has given desperate parents a sliver of hope. In Florida, advocates have already began gathering signatures to put a medical marijuana referendum on this year’s ballot.
A new poll by Quinnipiac University says an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support the legalization of medical marijuana. Furthermore, according to Slate.com, a majority of people in the state also supports the legalization of small amounts of the drug for personal use.
According to the poll, 88 percent of people support the medical use of marijuana, while a slimmer majority — 57 percent — support recreational use. The numbers are likely a bit of relief to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently announced a measured plan to introduce the issue. Under Cuomo’s plan, a select few hospitals will be allowed to distribute the drug for medical purposes.
Slate reports there is an expected generation gap among respondents to the poll. Among the 18-29 age group, there is 83 percent support for recreational use. That number drops to 38 percent for those over 65.
Not everyone thinks full legalization would be a good idea. Some citizens voiced concern to New York CBS 2’s John Slattery.
“I don’t like that whatsoever; it’s addictive, it’s illegal, it gets in the wrong hands,” Toussaint Louis told Slattery.
Some medical experts continue to urge caution as well, saying marijuana may be more dangerous than alcohol.
“If alcohol is bad that ship has sailed, and alcohol is a bad drug but that has nothing to do with marijuana,” Dr. Harris Straytner told CBS 2. "Marijuana is a completely separate drug and is bad in its own way."
With support for legalization growing as New York’s medical initiative moves forward and other states, like Colorado, adopt relaxed laws, the voices of detractors may soon be drowned out.
“Medical marijuana is a no-brainer for New York State voters, and they also would follow Colorado in legalizing marijuana for fun," Maurice Carroll, who conducted the poll for Quinnipiac, said. "But a slim plurality don't think legalization has been good for Colorado's reputation.”
Eighteen members of Congress have asked President Barack Obama to relax the strict classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.
“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., the lead author of their letter, argues. The letter was signed by 16 other Democrats and one Republican, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. It was sent to the president on Wednesday.
According to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs are those substances that have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Schedule I is the CSA’s classification for heroin and LSD.
The letter points out such a classification is at odds with the president’s recent remarks in an interview with New Yorker magazine.
”As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life," Obama said in that interview. "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
While the president may be publicly softening his stance on marijuana, he has said he prefers Congress to act instead of taking unilateral executive action.
"What is and isn't a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress," Obama told Jake Tapper of CNN.
The CSA grants authority to the legislature to reschedule controlled substances, but provisions in the law also allow the executive branch, through the U.S. Attorney General and the DEA, to reclassify drugs.
Attorney General Eric Holder has also stated his preference for Congress to take action first regarding the contentious marijuana classification.
Such a position by the Obama administration contradicts recent remarks about executive action, said Stephen Sherer. Sherer is the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the largest medical marijuana advocacy group in the country.
“President Obama just told the nation during his State of the Union address that because Congress has been unable to act, he would take executive action where he could on behalf of helping the American people,” he said. “The president has the authority to reclassify marijuana and could exercise that authority at any time.”
Parents across the country are turning to medical marijuana to help their children who suffer from autism, epilepsy, debilitating seizures and other severe health conditions.
In most cases, however, the children are not smoking the drug. Instead, they are ingesting it in the form of cannabis oil. Some take fruit-flavored gel caps while others have the gel stirred into their yogurt or applesauce.
Typically, the cannabis oil is derived from medical marijuana that can be purchased legally in many states as long as the child carries a medical ID card issued by the state health department.
In New Jersey, Tina Marie DeSilvio creates the concoction for her daughter, Jenna, by soaking the marijuana buds in 180-proof alcohol. She allows that to evaporate into a thick substance that is then mixed into coconut oil. Jenna, who suffers from severe convulsions, can then ingest the mixture when it is mixed into her food. The 10-step process can even be found on Facebook.
While the parents of children like Jenna clearly believe the “tinctures” are helping their children, others would like to see a more scientific approach to creating the edible forms of the drug.
In Utah last year, a group of doctors and pediatric neurologists sent a letter to the state’s Controlled Substances Advisory Committee. The letter said the oils “should be available as soon as possible to Utah children with severe epilepsy. The substance is not psychoactive or hallucinogenic, it contains less THC than do other materials that can be legally purchased in Utah, and it has absolutely no abuse potential.” The letter points out that, once produced, the oils would be used only under the supervision of a doctor. The oils are marketed in Utah under the name Alepsia.
In New Jersey, though, such commercially produced edibles can still be hard to obtain. Governor Chris Christie, who originally signed a bill that made it easier for children to get the drugs, has said that he would veto any other bill that sought to expand the program.
Frustrated, some parents have left the state for Colorado, where the products are easier to obtain. Brian Wilson is one of those parents. His daughter, Vivian, suffers from life-threatening epilepsy.
"We're hoping we can come back to New Jersey in a year and a half," he said, hopeful that the state can get its medical marijuana products available to all children in need.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, a law passed in 2010, legally allows Arizona residents with doctors’ recommendations to obtain and possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana. A homeowners' association based in Chandler, Ariz., however, is restricting its residents' pot use even if they have medical prescriptions for the drug.
The Homeowners' Association of Carrilo Ranch recently declared that its residents are forbidden from smoking medical marijuana in the front yard, back yard or on the patio of their homes. If a patient or recreational user does want to smoke marijuana, he or she must do so indoors.
According to medical marijuana attorney Ryan Hurley, the smoking restrictions created by the Homeowners' Association should be limited to shared, public areas of the neighborhood.
“These patients have the right to use their medication just like you or I have the right to use any prescription,” Hurley said to AZ Family. "The HOA rules also apply to common areas in the neighborhood. I tend to think that any incursion into the private property rights of somebody using the medication on their own property is probably an overreach."
Other attorneys claim that the situation is not quite so easy to define. According to AZ Central, the laws that come into play regarding a situation such as this include fair-housing laws, the American Disabilities Act, Arizona laws that say medical marijuana is legal, and the contrasting federal law that says the drug is illegal.
Attorney Curtis Ekmark claimed that individuals often have to sacrifice public rights when moving into a neighborhood with a homeowners' association.
“I may have the right to a dog, but if I move into an association, I lose that right if the documents prohibit dogs,” Ekmark said.
It is uncertain whether the medical marijuana patients living in the neighborhood will react against the Homeowners' Association’s new rules, or if they will adjust to them accordingly.
New Mexico, one of the few states that permits the use of medical marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder patients (PTSD), has enacted regulations that make it “unnecessarily difficult” for patients to gain access to the drug.
In order to be granted use of medical marijuana, a patient’s doctor must provide documented proof that every other potential remedy has proved ineffective.
A Santa Fe lawsuit filed by neuropsychiatry specialist Dr. Carola Kieve now claims that the state has denied patients the drug “without sufficient cause.” The lawsuit states that the New Mexico Department of Health and the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board “have imposed regulations that are neither required by nor authorized by state law.”
Cannabis has proven effective in alleviating some of PTSD’s most common symptoms, including “anxiety, traumatic memories, and insomnia.” It is a cure that has frequently been administered to veterans of the Iraq War.
And yet, use of medical marijuana is what led to Iraq War veteran Augustine Stanley’s being fired from a correctional facility in Albuquerque. As his wife Anetra has described, Stanley returned from war an entirely changed man. “When it got bad, it was awful,” she said.
When Stanley was prescribed medical marijuana, however, she saw the return of her husband as she had known him. “I want him to stay on this,” she continued.
Stanley is joined in her cause by The Freedom to Choose, a campaign of drug researchers, veterans, and lawmakers that strives to remove the stigma surrounding the use of medical marijuana. Interestingly, New Mexico is one of the states where the organization has been most outspoken.
As Stanley has put it, people need to “recognize the quality of life this medication gives back to the patients.”
The only other states that currently permit medical marijuana in the treatment of PTSD are Maine, Oregon, California, Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts.
The issue of marijuana use in the NFL has been around for a long time. Though the plant is banned under the league’s substance abuse policy, it has long been assumed that many players light up in order to deal with the aches, pains, and breaks that are a daily part of life in the NFL.
In May, former Lions offensive tackle and current ESPN analyst Lomas Brown validated these assumptions. Brown made headlines when he said that at least 50 percent of NFL players smoke weed.
“I just don’t think you’ll be able to curb this,” Brown added.
In recent years, as states legalize medical marijuana, and, in the cases of Colorado and Washington, legalize the plant entirely, the issue has become even more pressing. If marijuana is known to have medical benefits -- especially for pain -- then why are players who live in states where medical marijuana is allowed forbidden from smoking it?
True, the NFL is a private corporation, and as such has the right to set whatever substance use rules they see fit for their employees. But the overwhelming majority of businesses defer to state laws when it comes to marijuana use policies.
So why is the NFL, an organization whose employees are famous for pounding shots of liquor and abusing oxycodone pills in order to cope with the pain that comes with their job, so reluctant to let their players smoke marijuana? It’s a fair question that deserves an answer.
After all, the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not ban all marijuana use. It only bans illegal marijuana use. So if a player lives in a state where using marijuana is legal, why should they be punished by the league if caught smoking?
Though NFL executives won’t give a straight answer to this question, they do appear to at least be keeping an open mind on the issue. Commissioner Roger Goodell was explicitly asked by a reporter recently whether NFL players would be permitted to smoke weed in states where it is legal. Instead of saying just saying “no” -- as NFL representatives have in the past -- he left the door open for future possibilities.
"I don't know what's going to develop as far as the next opportunity for medicine to evolve and to help either deal with pain or help deal with injuries,” Goodell said, “but we will continue to support the evolution of medicine.”
Regardless of how long the NFL takes to adjust their marijuana use policy, one thing is clear: players will be smoking weed in the mean time. After being arrested for selling marijuana and cocaine in 2011, former Cowboys and Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd told Peter King in an interview that he and dozens of his teammates smoked weed daily. Most players know when they will be tested each year, Hurd said, so the key to passing screenings is not abstaining from drugs altogether, but rather knowing at what times of the year you should stop.
It seems that in the NFL -- just as with the rest of the country -- marijuana prohibition is a failed policy. Slowly but surely, lawmakers across the country are realizing this and changing laws accordingly. Let’s see if the NFL can keep up.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ruled in 2011 that it’s illegal for registered medical marijuana patients to buy or own guns, according to The Daily Chronic. Now, a congressman from Colorado has introduced a bill seeking to override that ruling.
The bill, HR 3483, the Protecting Individual Liberties and States’ Rights Act, was introduced by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis and it was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee for review.
A summary of the bill indicates the proposal’s intent “to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide exceptions from the firearm prohibitions otherwise applicable in relation to marijuana if its possession is lawful under State law.”
The Weed Blog reports that the Federal Identification Card (FID), which allows citizens to buy guns and ammunition from retail outlets, states that FID card holders can’t, among other restrictions, use schedule I controlled substances, a legal classification created by the federal government in 1970 that cannabis was contentiously placed in.
“In a country where other medical patients don’t lose their Second Amendment rights — even those that are prescribed potent narcotics — what reason can justify law-abiding medical patients who legally use cannabis as a therapeutic from being denied a sacredly held constitutional right?” NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre stated.
The Daily Chronic also noted that at the time of the ATF’s ruling, Arthur Herbert, Assistant Director for Enforcement Programs and Services for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, wrote the following in a memo:
Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether or not his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or is addicted to a controlled substance and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.
11Will Employees Fired In Michigan After Failing Drug Tests For Using Medical Marijuana Be Entitled To Unemployment Benefits?
The issue in Michigan is not whether people can be fired for using medical marijuana, but whether they can collect unemployment benefits after being terminated for using it.
The Lansing State Journal reports that the Michigan appeals court has agreed to hear two cases to determine whether someone fired for using medical marijuana still can collect unemployment benefits from the state.
The appeals court has agreed to listen to appeals from the state in the case of a forklift driver in Grand Rapids and a hospital employee in Charlotte, southwest of Lansing.
Judges in Ingham and Kent counties reversed decisions of a state agency and ruled in favor of the two people who sought benefits after being terminated.
However, the attorney general’s office doesn’t agree.
State law “recognizes that an employer has a valid interest in maintaining a drug-free workplace,” the state said in a court filing. “Thus workers who are discharged for a positive drug test are disqualified from receiving benefits.”
A date has not yet been set for arguments in the state appeals court.
Federal courts have already said that Michigan businesses have the power to fire workers for medical marijuana use.
Earlier this month, the Detroit Free Press reported that a bill allowing medical marijuana sales in pharmacies passed in the state Senate on a 22-16 vote.