Pictured: David Dragotto prepares dinner for his 12-year-old daughter, Gianna Dragotto, by adding one of three types of cannabis extracts mixed in olive oil to her meal. (Josh Barber, Orange County Register)

California family fighting for city’s medical marijuana measure to help daughter

SANTA ANA – Gianna Dragotto sits in her wheelchair at the 420 Central marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana, slowly chewing spoonfuls of her low-carb dinner, which is topped with cannabis oil.

Displayed throughout the dispensary are signs and pamphlets with the words “Vote Yes on Measure X,” a Costa Mesa-sponsored ballot measure that would allow her oils, called Myriam’s Hope, to be made in a designated part of the city.

Gianna, 12, of Costa Mesa, takes the oils with her food four times daily to cope with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy, and congenital disorders of glycosylation, an inherited metabolic disorder that impairs the production of proteins and can result in mental and physical disabilities.

The 12- to 15-second drop seizures, which occur when abnormal brain activity results in the loss of muscle tone, began when she was three months old and increased to 200 per hour by the time she was 10, said Gianna’s mother, Natalie Dragotto.

Doctors said she wouldn’t live past her fifth birthday.

“The doctor told me ‘You need to focus on having more children and not focus so much on making Gianna better,'” Natalie Dragotto recalled.

After exhausting all the traditional pharmaceuticals, Gianna’s parents began giving her cannabis oils with her food in 2014. The seizures slowly decreased to around 20 per hour and she is now able to say small words like “mermaid” and “mama,” they said.

“We pretty much went from A to Z in all the seizure medications,” said Gianna’s father, David Dragotto.

On Tuesday, voters in Costa Mesa will be see nine measures on the ballot. Measure X, one of three marijuana-related initiatives, would allow the processing, research, distribution, development and testing of medical marijuana-related products in a designated industrial zone in the northern part of the city, but no dispensaries.

Producing the oils, which requires extraction, is illegal and therefore not regulated, making it impossible to tell if the products are safe, said Robert Taft, owner of 420 Central and the proponent behind Measure V who now favors the city’s initiative over his own.

“I don’t know how it’s made and I own the store,” he said. “These products are made by people in the business that have a great reputation and following, but can I tell you what their lab looks like or how clean or secure it is? No. Measure X solves all that.”

In addition, a 6 percent tax would be levied on the businesses.

The other two measures, V and W, would allow up to eight and four dispensaries, respectively.

Whichever measure gets the most votes above 50 percent wins.

Natalie and David Dragotto have advocated for Measure X by walking door-to-door, talking with residents and handing out literature, arguing that the initiative will allow medical marijuana businesses to develop their products in a safe and clean environment.

“I’ve gotten weird looks from people when I’m with Gianna,” Natalie Dragotto said. “It’s about educating them.”

The Dragottos get the cannabis oils at 420 Central where Taft sponsors the $1,200 monthly cost.

Before supplying the oils at his store, Taft had to travel outside the county to purchase the products, usually to Rancho Cucamonga or Northern California. Only a handful of Orange County dispensaries sell them now, he said.

City leaders drafted the measure to exclude dispensaries until the state has a legal framework to control how the shops are operated.

Councilman Jim Righeimer has said the initiative would deliver tested wholesale products to retail stores outside the city.

“We want to make sure that people like Gianna can get the medicine they need without going to full-blown dispensaries,” Righeimer said.

There are also concerns about what happens to patients like Gianna when cannabis oil production facilities are targeted by authorities.

In June, Sonoma County law enforcement officials raided five properties associated with Care By Design and Absolute Xtracts, two popular cannabis product brands.

In January, San Diego police arrested two employees at a hash oil lab operated by Med-West Distribution.

“What if the place that makes Gianna’s oils get raided?” Natalie Dragotto said. “We’ll be in a tailspin. That’s why we’re fighting so hard for this.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-2478 or lcasiano@ocregister.com

This story was first published on OCRegister.com