March 22, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Steve Kilar, ACLU of Arizona, 602-492-8540, skilar@acluaz.org

PHOENIX – The Maricopa County Superior Court ruled late Friday in favor of five-year-old Zander Welton, finding that his parents and physicians could resume treating his seizure disorder with a marijuana extract. Judge Katherine Cooper found that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), approved by voters in 2010, allows patients to use marijuana extracts without fear of prosecution. In October, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona sued the county on behalf of Zander and his parents, Jennifer and Jacob Welton, because Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and other Arizona law enforcement agents had asserted that the AMMA does not sanction the use of marijuana extracts and threatened criminal charges for patients who used extracts.

"We are thrilled by this decision," said Jennifer Welton. "I am so relieved that we can give Zander the right form of this medication – the form that will provide him with the best benefit and help him have a fuller life. We hope this battle is over and that county officials will stop trying to keep Zander from his medicine."

Jennifer and Jacob Welton had been successfully treating their son's seizures with a combination of CBD oil, a non-psychoactive hemp extract, and marijuana. But fear of prosecution forced the Weltons to stop using the CBD oil and use only marijuana. The marijuana by itself in plant form was less effective for Zander and is difficult to properly dose and administer.

"Maricopa County had placed a cruel obstacle between Zander and the medicine that had drastically reduced his seizures. Now, thanks to this ruling, the county can no longer interfere with sick patients' access to marijuana in the form that best suits their medical needs," said ACLU Staff Attorney Emma Andersson. "This is precisely what Arizonans intended when they voted for the medical marijuana ballot initiative: compassion over criminalization."

Judge Cooper was unequivocal: Nothing in the AMMA "limits the form in which patients may use medical marijuana.… The AMMA authorizes qualifying patients to use extracts, including CBD oil, prepared from the marijuana plant."

Judge Cooper's ruling permits the Weltons to resume the use of CBD oil or another marijuana extract for Zander. Zander has severe epilepsy and has suffered from debilitating seizures for most of his life. Before trying medical marijuana, Zander had two unsuccessful brain surgeries and tried numerous pharmaceutical medications. Since he started using medical marijuana in September of last year, he has experienced an unprecedented period of relief.

In her decision, Judge Cooper recognized that marijuana extractions "facilitate proper dosing" and "make it feasible for patients who cannot consume the medicine in plant form to receive it another way."

"It makes no sense to interpret the AMMA as allowing people … to use medical marijuana but only if they take it in one particular form," Judge Cooper wrote. "Such an interpretation reduces, if not eliminates, medical marijuana as a treatment option for those who cannot take it in plant form, or who could receive a greater benefit from an alternative form."

ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda said, "The court recognized the clear language and intent of the voters to enable relief for seriously ill people through the use of marijuana plants and their extracts. County Attorney Montgomery should end his politically motivated attempts to thwart this intent. Young Zander Welton and others deserve the possibility of a full life absent constant pain and seizures without threat of prosecution."

In addition to Andersson and Pochoda, the Weltons' legal team has included Ezekiel Edwards of the ACLU, Kelly Flood, formerly of the ACLU of Arizona, and Tim Eckstein and Joe Roth of Osborn Maledon.

Click here to read Judge Cooper's full decision.

Click here to read more about Welton v. State of Arizona.

 

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