What do marijuana advocates do when a bill is introduced that they feel threatens the rights of cannabis users? They fight back.
A campaign to kill two Colorado Senate bills on child endangerment had been rallied via the Internet leading up to the day’s hearing at 1:30 p.m. on April 9. Cannabis-consuming parents, patients, enthusiasts and activists alike milled around the Capitol late morning that day. Banding together would make a difference and everyone wanted their chance to create change — myself included.
I had arrived early, as the various cannabis parents groups were set to meet around 11:30 to organize and take a group photo. There were folks from all over the spectrum — young adults with no children but a penchant for pot and parents who need marijuana in their lives for their health and well-being or the survival of their children.
As more joined the few gathering near the Capitol steps, a crowd formed. Conversations began, Internet acquaintances became friends in real life and signs and posters were popping up. That is when things got a little chaotic. Someone was shouting instructions, urging those gathered to visit their representatives to voice their dissent. Someone else yelled that they didn’t want to be shouted at. But never mind that now, it was time for a group photo. After several shots (where my son ran around like a chicken with its head cut off) and a pep talk to the parents, things got pretty quiet. It was around noon that the crowd began to disperse.
I felt like the kid who goes to a movie by themselves. I’d taken the bus and was carrying what I thought would be a few hours’ worth of toddler supplies — diapers, snacks, toys. But with all the commotion and the many field-tripping children running across the lawn of the Capitol, my son was amped up.
Keeping track of my accouterments and my mini-me was becoming nearly impossible, and to top things off I was getting a tummy ache. While as a child I was wild and extroverted, these days I would label myself a hardcore introvert. When I push against that too much, I internalize the stress of dealing with it and that usually comes with a tummy ache. Call me a baby, call it psychosomatic, whatever, it happens to me. I called my husband (at work) to take a break and please come swoop me up. I tucked my tail as I headed home with my son falling asleep almost the instant we walked in the door.
I felt like I’d failed. Yes, I’d done my part and sent an email of dissent to the Judiciary Committee set to hear the bills, but I’d wanted to physically be there. I’d wanted to be a face in the crowd that represents a dedicated and loving mother who just happens to smoke pot. I didn’t want to speak necessarily, just watch. I wondered what I could have contributed had I stayed until the hearing got underway.
Well, not much as it happens. I was keeping up via activists in the hearing who were posting play-by-plays on Facebook. Things ran late. Then they ran later. It wasn’t until after 8 p.m. that the testimonies had all been delivered. No way would my son have made it that long. I also saw a few other parents had to leave with their little ones before the hearing was over.
Two parents who stayed were Ashley Weber and Moriah Barnhart, both with very different but equally as essential personal investments in the bills not passing as proposed.
Weber is smiling in every picture you see of her and she was smiling when I saw her that day at the Capitol. You wouldn’t guess the trauma she’s suffered. At age 18, a car accident left her paralyzed.
“As a quadriplegic, I have chronic aches in my neck and back, spasticity, neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain,” Weber wrote to me. “Pain alone can have a negative impact on an individual leading to depression, anxiety, and stress. Cannabis helps me deal with all these issues allowing me to live a better quality of life.”
She credits medical marijuana as a part of what gives her the resilience to move forward, saying cannabis is “giving me the ability to be the best Mom to my 5 year old son, focus on advocacy for the rights of patients and MMJ, run my own Designer business — and I do this all from a wheelchair!”
But she isn’t all cock-eyed optimist. Though not usually politically active, aside from voting, Weber does have experience with misguided attempts by others to protect her child from her marijuana use.
“Unfortunately I was contacted by CPS after I had been on Channel 9 News regarding the battle I faced with (federal housing) and MMJ use back in 2013. It had been reported cannabis infused suckers were laying all over within reach of my child.”
Her experience was enlightening, however. “The social worker’s conclusion was quite the polar opposite,” Weber said. “I believe they feel the resources are wasted when assigned to petty cases like this one. Time wasted could be time utilized in a productive case of true child endangerment.”
Moriah Barnhart, on the other hand, was at the Capitol that day to fight for her daughter Dahlia’s health and to represent for other parents with critically ill children. She is more familiar with activism, taking a stand both here in Colorado and in her home state of Florida. “I believe strongly in the idea that we can’t complain unless we’re willing to be aware, to educate ourselves, and to act accordingly,” Barnhart says, adding she doesn’t use cannabis herself — and I believe it.
“My daughter does use cannabis extract,” she says, “she was diagnosed with brain cancer … at the age of 2.”
Pause for a moment and take that in.
In an article for Cannabis Now Moriah says it wasn’t until after her daughter stopped breathing due to being administered pain medication on the operating table that she realized she needed to look further into treating Dahlia with cannabis. As she told Cannabis Now, “her tumor can’t be removed, and radiation isn’t a viable option.”
Barnhart has yet to encounter CPS to date, but said she knew that if SB-177 and SB-178 were to pass without amendments, they would be a threat to her ability to treat her daughter.
“I would have been deemed a criminal in Colorado. … in which case, I might as well have stayed in my home state, an illegal state, and been a criminal there.”
The tummy ache that sent me home seemed pretty non-threatening in comparison. Even further, the struggles these mommies deal with make my chronic back pain and need for an appetite stimulant feel very trivial. It dawned on me that my ability to medicate as I choose (instead of being forced into pain pills and synthetic drugs designed to make me hungry) was in part because of the efforts of these women. They helped establish the path for all of us parents.
Before I went to bed that night I saw a proposed amendment to SB-178. The voices of the activists had been heard. The proposed amendments from that evening’s hearing read, “Nothing in this part 4 shall prohibit the use, possession, cultivation, distribution, or manufacture of a controlled substance that is permitted by Colorado law and that is used, possessed, cultivated, distributed, or manufactured in accordance with Colorado law, in a situation that does not pose a threat of injury to a child’s life or health.”
The Drug Policy Alliance wasn’t through, though; it intended to fully kill the bills. Although the amendments (mostly) removed the potential that the bills can use responsible consumption of marijuana as a basis for removal of your child, it would still stigmatize parents with addiction problems. In email correspondence Laura Pegram said, “the real question though is why does drug use by parents automatically equate to neglect/abuse??? If someone posed such a bill about alcohol or firearms it would be laughed out of the Capitol.”
This also was a problem for Cristina Aguilar of COLOR. In her letter to the Judiciary Committee she reasoned, “According to the national Advocates for Pregnant Women, research has shown that low-income women and women of color have been disproportionately targeted for these punitive interventions and are amount those with the lease access to drug treatment and other health services.”
Even though I went to bed a little more comfortable than I had all week, with a little less paranoia than I had since my first article about CPS ran, I knew that it would be ill advised to celebrate too much. There will always be another bill to fight, always another naysayer to debate.
So I’m just going to implore you. Consider this me begging you, why not. If you support the cannabis movement, please join a group relative to your situation and stay informed so you can be active in the process.
An update and good news — It definitely made a difference in this case to have so many dedicated people email and show up to refute the bills. On the evening of April 29, SB-177 and SB-178 officially died on the committee floor.
It doesn’t cost any money to follow an advocacy group on Facebook or Twitter and they will absolutely keep you informed and up-to-date on cannabis-related bills/policies/protests/etc. You don’t have to show up in the flesh, sometimes just a little Internet moral support is all that’s needed. It takes less than a minute to sign an Internet petition or to point, click, copy, point, click, paste and send a letter opposing some proposed legislation. And if you do decide to meet up for a protest or a hearing, I’d advise you to network with other enthusiasts or activists beforehand or you might end up feeling like the lonely kid at the matinee like I did.
Here are a few groups that are active in Colorado. Scan through these suggestions, browse their mission statements and see if anything resonates with you:
The Drug Policy Alliance — From their mission statement: “The Drug Policy Alliance envisions a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, in which people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies but only for crimes committed against others, and in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more. Our mission is to advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies.”
NORML — From their mission statement: “to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.”
NORML Women’s Alliance — From their Facebook page: The NORML Women’s Alliance is a coalition of nonpartisan, educated, geographically and socially diverse women who believe that cannabis prohibition is a self-destructive and hypocritical policy that undermines the American family, sends a mixed and false message to our young people, and destroys the cherished principles of personal liberty and local self-government.
Marijuana Policy Project — From their mission statement: “1. Increase public support for non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies. 2. Identify and activate supporters of non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies. 3. Change state laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for the medical and non-medical use of marijuana. 4. Gain influence in Congress.” In addition, their “vision statement” reads, “MPP and MPP Foundation envision a nation where marijuana is legally regulated similarly to alcohol, marijuana education is honest and realistic, and treatment for problem marijuana users is non-coercive and geared toward reducing harm.”
Americans for Safe Access — From their mission statement: “Ensuring safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic uses and research. ASA works with our grassroots base of over 50,000 members to effect change using public education and direct advocacy at the local, state, and federal level. (Americans for Safe Access Foundation) trains and educates patients, advocates, health care professionals and other stakeholders. ASAF also provides direct legal support and uses impact litigation to protect and expand patients’ rights.”