July 25, 2014

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Higher Ground

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Parents, children at forefront of medical marijuana debate

Parents and their children seem to be at the forefront of medical marijuana contention in Michigan and across the nation these days. One of the hottest points is Michigan’s proposed SB 736, which was introduced by state Sen. Rick Jones on Jan. 15. The Senate bill addresses issues around the children of medical marijuana patients and seems to be an outgrowth of the Bree Green debacle last year.

Baby Bree, as she is known publicly, was taken from her parents by Child Protective Services in early September. Bree’s parents, Steve and Maria Green, are medical marijuana patients. Steve suffers from epilepsy and Maria from multiple sclerosis. Maria grows marijuana at their home. The issue with then-6-month-old Bree stemmed from a custody battle between Maria and her ex-husband over an older child. 

It was never clear why Bree was removed from the Green home. At first it was said that the CPS worker believed that the presence of marijuana in the home constituted a danger because maybe someone would break in to steal it, thereby endangering Bree. Later there were rumors that Bree’s hair had tested positive for metabolites of cannabinoids found in marijuana — although the level was so low it could have been a false reading or caused by other substances normally found in homes. I never heard any reports that Bree was abused or neglected in any way. It was just the “presence” of marijuana in the home.

In the end, Bree was returned to her parents after about six weeks. Whatever was negotiated between the state and the family was sealed, so the public doesn’t know.

Now we have SB 736 making its way through the legislature. According to a Jan. 16 blog post summarizing the bill by Southfield-based attorney Michael Komorn, “SB 736 would allow [judges] to give CPS the power to take children from the home of any parent who uses medical marijuana, and would also require the patient to see another doctor to evaluate their medical use of marijuana, and prescribe them medications in place of marijuana.”

I left a message at Komorn Law but didn’t get a reply by deadline.

SB 736 sounds like an attack on medical marijuana patients who happen to have children living with them, and a blatant way to get around the law and demonize the patients. It’s residual reefer madness that opines that, if you use marijuana, there must be something wrong with you — and I don’t mean the illness that you’re medicating with it.

However, the medical marijuana activists and lobbyists in Lansing seem to be getting some changes into the bill’s language that makes it less punitive. Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., has been monitoring the situation in Lansing. Lindsey sees some good developments. 

“In its original version, we were troubled by it,” he says. “Once the amendments that we anticipate will be made are in place, it’s actually going to be a good bill.”

The MPP had a hand in writing the original Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and is active in initiatives across the United States. 

“There’s every indication that these amendments are in the works,” Lindsey says. “The issue is that we have a clear statewide set of rules for how the [Department of Human Services] is supposed to handle a situation where parents use medical marijuana. There were no criteria for the courts to evaluate. Now the state would have to articulate harm and then make a determination that medical marijuana is a factor. That is similar to what happens with prescription medication. … So far, conversations have been very positive.” 

That's what was lacking in the Baby Bree case. There was never any clearly articulated harm to the child. It seems there was a general sense of “we can’t allow a child to be around marijuana,” but, at least publicly, there was no specific harm stated.

There is a counternarrative nationally, with groups of mothers actually saying that using marijuana makes better parents. A California group called Moms for Marijuana spoke with ABC News last year.

“Cannabis not only made me a better mom, cannabis made me a better human being,” said optician Cheryl Shuman. Her therapist suggested she try it. Her daughter said Shuman was “living like a zombie” on prescription medications.

Another one of the moms said, “When I’m in pain, I’m in bed for days. I don’t talk; I’m miserable. My son will come up to me and say, ‘Mom it’s time to medicate.’”

The past few years we’ve been treated to articles with titles such as “Why smoking pot makes me a better mom” and “Why I smoke to cope with being a mom.”

Apparently there are two sides to the argument. It seems that we’re going to be fighting about children and medical marijuana for a while. Most of it won’t be around cases like Bree’s, although hers is not the only one where medical marijuana patients who are parents have been threatened. Another fight will be around children who are patients. 

A Michigan mom, Carly Erwin, says she lost a good friend over her decision to treat her teenage daughter’s brain cancer with Rick Simpson’s Hemp Oil — successfully — after doctors said her daughter might live 18 months if she had chemotherapy treatments. A group of southeast Michigan mothers were on Fox 2 News Jan. 22, to talk about their efforts to get medical marijuana for their children who suffer from seizures.

The seizure aspect was highlighted when CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta highlighted the case of a 5-year-old girl who suffered as many as 300 seizures a week. A medical marijuana preparation high in the cannabinoid CBD reduced those instances to just two or three per month.

Opponents say that the plant is dangerous to children and point to a New Zealand study published in 2012 that found that people who were heavy cannabis users by age 18 suffered an 8 percent drop in IQ later in life. This is one study, and there are questions about how it was done. However, that certainly calls for some caution. On the recreational side of marijuana, no one is advocating its use by minors. On the medical side, it seems to be effective in cases where nothing else helps. When you balance 300 debilitating and dangerous seizures each week reduced to a few per month, it’s something you need to investigate.

Consider the case of Irv Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld is one of the few still-living medical marijuana patients who receives medication from the federal government. He was diagnosed with multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis, which causes tumors to grow on the long bones of his body, at age 10. Rosenfeld was prescribed methaqualone, Demerol, valium, morphine and even alcohol while a young teenager. None of those substances provided the relief he later found in marijuana.

We should be concerned about our children. But how that concern plays out isn’t always going to be agreed upon. We shouldn’t scapegoat parents who are marijuana patients, and we should allow parents who deem it a reasonable treatment for their children to use it for certain conditions. Rather than trying to keep it away from people and threatening to take away their children, we should be trying to get marijuana to the people who need it. Before it’s all over, even this will be settled. 

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