On Behalf of Five-Year-Old with Severe Seizures, ACLU Seeks Ruling in AZ to Protect Access to Medical Marijuana in All Forms

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
October 29, 2013 9:53 am

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Fearing criminal prosecution, Zander Welton's parents had to stop giving him a medical marijuana extract that was successfully treating his severe seizure disorder.

Medical marijuana is legal in Arizona, but Maricopa County Attorney William Montgomery wrongly claims that the law applies to the marijuana plant only and that using extracts from the plant is a crime.

October 29, 2013

CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit Monday in the Superior Court of Arizona for Maricopa County to protect the parents of five-year-old Zander Welton from criminal prosecution for successfully treating their son's debilitating seizures with a medical marijuana extract.

The lawsuit names as defendants the state of Arizona, Gov. Janice Brewer, Maricopa County Attorney William Montgomery, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services William Humble.

Zander's severe epilepsy is one symptom of his focal cortical dysplasia type 2A, a rare, congenital condition. Another is autism. Earlier this year, the Arizona Department of Health Services approved the medical marijuana application his parents submitted for Zander and issued a medical marijuana patient identification card for him.

Said ACLU attorney Emma Andersson: "When Arizona's voters said yes to legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients in 2010, they certainly meant the plant as well as extracts from the plant. Casting a cloud of criminality over medical marijuana extracts is wrong and cruel. After seeing not one but two brain surgeries fail to help their son, Zander's parents finally found an effective treatment in a medical marijuana extract—they don't deserve to be scared off from the best medicine available for Zander. Zander deserves to have access to this life-changing treatment."

Because some top officials have suggested that only the marijuana plant itself is legal for medicinal purposes and thus any extracts derived from the plant are illegal, Zander's parents, Jennifer and Jacob Welton, stopped giving Zander the oil for fear of criminal prosecution.

The oil containing the marijuana extract, in combination with dried marijuana plant, had reduced Zander's seizures dramatically.

Before starting the oil and plant regimen earlier this year, Zander, at age five, had the motor skills of a one-and-a-half-year-old, because the seizures had stunted his physical abilities. After a short period of the oil and plant regimen, Zander's parents saw his motor skills and coordination vastly improve. For the first time, he can stack more than two blocks at a time, eat with utensils, and walk around objects without touching the wall or another object for stability. Zander is also on the verge of being able to run.

"Zander's parents have been forced to put their son's medical progress at risk, all because County Attorney Montgomery is prioritizing his ideological opposition to the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act over patients' needs," Andersson said. "No parent should have to factor in jail time when deciding to use the most effective medicine to protect their child's health."

Zander and other patients around the country who have found relief from severe epilepsy in medical marijuana extracts appear to benefit from the chemical CBD (short for cannabidiol) in marijuana. The extract Zander was taking contained concentrated CBD and had no measurable THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana. The plant material used in Zander's treatment comes from plants grown to have low amounts of THC.

But because of the threat of criminal charges, Zander's parents, in consultation with medical marijuana experts and Zander's physician, stopped using the oil and increased the amount of dried plant material in hopes of making up for the loss of CBD from the oil. But the dried plant is difficult for Zander to swallow, and it is unlikely that he is getting enough CBD to maximize its benefits.

Said Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona: "Despite losses in federal and state courts, Gov. Brewer and County Attorney Montgomery continue to take steps to undermine the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Zander Welton and his medical progress are now endangered by their political agenda. It's time for our state to acknowledge the clear statement made by the voters about the legality of medical marijuana extracts."

So that Zander's parents can resume the most effective treatment for his debilitating illness, the ACLU is seeking a judgment declaring that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) decriminalizes the use of extracts and other products derived from marijuana for medical purposes. The ACLU is also requesting an injunction to prevent criminal charges against the Weltons and other Arizonans who are using marijuana-derived products for medical reasons and in compliance with the AMMA.

A copy of the ACLU's complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/zander

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