By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Colorado “caregivers’’ who provide medical marijuana products to children are probably violating state law.
But it’s not clear that anyone is going to prosecute them.
That was the verdict after a Tuesday hearing at Colorado’s Capitol that drew a smaller-than-anticipated crowd, but about a dozen families who give their children marijuana, which they say reduces potentially deadly seizures. Some spoke tearfully about the importance of continuing to get marijuana products from a Boulder caregiver named Jason Cranford.
Colorado’s Board of Health met Tuesday to consider tightening policies for medical marijuana caregivers. The caregivers registers with the state, but operate outside of Colorado’s network of licensed dispensaries and recreational pot shops.
The Board of Health members ultimately voted not to cap the number of adult patients a caregiver can supply. Instead, the board members voted to tighten up the current waiver process. But, during the course of the hearing, lawyers advised the board that parents of young medical marijuana patients must be the child’s official “caregiver.” And they said caregivers are not allowed to tap other caregivers, like Cranford, for supplies of marijuana.
Cranford, who also owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Rifle, said he has spent six years perfecting a strain of high CBD, low THC marijuana that many parents give their children in oil form. He says he supplies about 90 patients who pay about $200 per month through what he calls the Flowering Hope Foundation. He said he donates the marijuana to some patients who can’t afford it and supplies needy patients who would otherwise be on waiting lists for other suppliers who are growing marijuana for children with seizure disorders.
Cranford said he’ll challenge the state in court if they try to shut him down.
“Just to be blunt and frank, I’m not going to stop what I’m doing. Put handcuffs on me,” Cranford said as an audience of marijuana supporters cheered him during the Board of Health meeting in the Old Supreme Court Chambers at Colorado’s Capitol.
“There’s no money in what I’m doing,” Cranford said, insisting that other caregivers and pot shops don’t want to sell his type of marijuana because it doesn’t get you high.
He and some mothers who testified said that without his strain of pot, some children would die.
“What you’re asking me to do is put blood on my hands. I’m not willing to do that.” Cranford said.
In Colorado, the Department of Revenue regulates brick-and-mortar pot shops. But asked after the Tuesday hearing if Revenue Department pot enforcement officials planned to shut down caregivers who are growing pot for children, Communications Director Daria Serna said her agency does not monitor caregivers. She said state health officials or local authorities would have jurisdiction over them.
Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said after Tuesday’s hearing that the health department is not a law enforcement agency and that he understands families with sick children and caregivers who are supplying them with marijuana are “well intentioned.”
He said he’s going to have to consider how to handle caregivers who provide marijuana to children.
“We’re not an enforcement agency per se. Nor do we receive any funding to do enforcement,” Wolk said.
“It’s a complex issue. Parents are very busy and their priority should be taking care of their kids,” Wolk said.
At the same time, he said the state must focus on best practices with children and research is essential so health care providers can learn if marijuana truly has any medical benefits for kids.
No one tests marijuana that caregivers supply to their patients. So it’s impossible to verify what’s in it or know if the product is consistent and safe.
“We have a confusing system because it’s a new system. We’re trying to make it less confusing for folks,” Wolk said.
Some parents say their children are clearly benefiting from marijuana.
Among those who attended Tuesday’s hearing is Janea Cox, who attended with her daughter, Haleigh.
“Without Jason, my daughter would be dead right now,” Cox testified before the board.
She said she moved in March to Colorado Springs from Georgia to try to get help for Haleigh after she nearly died and Cox had to perform CPR on her daughter earlier this year.
Cox said Haleigh started having seizures at about 8 months old and has since been diagnosed with an intractable form of epilepsy called Lennox Gastaut.
At times Haleigh has had as many as 200 seizures in a day. Now that she’s using the marijuana oil daily, she’s now down to as few as three and has had eight seizure-free days.
“My doctor (in Georgia) told us Haleigh would not make it to her fifth birthday,” Cox said, noting that she recently celebrated that milestone here in Colorado.
“Without Jason, I would not have heard my daughter’s voice. When I smile at her, she smiles back,” Cox said. “A lot of these kids can’t live without these medications,” Cox said. “Haleigh is a success story.”
During a break from the hearing, Cox said she uses a highly concentrated form of marijuana oil and gives Haley about 96 mg. per day. She said she pays Cranford about $175 per month for the oil which would cost as much as $80 per day if she bought it through a dispensary.
Cox said she had never smoked marijuana herself and never pictured herself giving it to her child. But desperation forced her to take desperate measures.
Prior to using the marijuana oil, Cox said Haleigh was unable to sit or walk, often slept 20 hours a day and was in a “constant catatonic state.”
This week, Cox said she took Haleigh shopping and she was smiling and verbalizing.
“She enjoys seeing everything. She yells and screams at stuff. She never used to make a noise,” Cox said.
In May, Cox said she received the greatest gift of all from her only child.
“She said ‘mama’ and I was able to get it on video,” Cox said. “I was told she’d never talk, so to hear her say mama (was incredible). I couldn’t stop crying.”