A Minnesota mother heads to court this week, charged with medicating her sick child with marijuana — an act that will be legal in a matter of months.
Angela Brown of Madison faces two gross misdemeanor charges of child endangerment for giving cannabis oil to her 15-year-old son, Trey, to ease the pain and muscle spasms he suffers as the result of a traumatic brain injury.
On Tuesday morning, activists delivered a petition with almost 9,000 signatures to Lac qui Parle County Attorney Rick Stulz, asking him to drop the case.
"Charging a mother with child endangerment because of politics is absurd," said Patrick McClellan of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, who traveled the snowy miles from his home in Burnsville to deliver the petition. "To charge a mother with child endangerment for trying to help her child is absurd."
The Legislature voted this year to legalize medical marijuana for patients with certain qualifying conditions — including children with seizure disorders. Patients can register for the medical cannabis program in June and buy the drug from one of the state's eight planned dispensaries starting July 1.
To date, 32 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Over the weekend, Congress tucked a provision into a massive spending bill that effectively ends the federal government's ban on medical marijuana as well.
Stulz's decision to prosecute Brown despite the coming legalization made headlines around the country and brought Brown to New York City for an appearance on "The View." Stulz did not respond to calls or e-mails for comment.
If the court doesn't dismiss the charges, state lawmakers may step in. One of the signatures on the petition came from state Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, who blasted the charges against Brown as "an unbelievable example of a misuse of prosecutorial discretion."
"To go ahead and put this mother, who's already dealing with her son's tragic situation, to put her in this spot is unconscionable," Petersen said. "Angela Brown did exactly what any parent would do."
If Brown is convicted, Petersen said, he'll push for legislative action to protect her or petition the governor and the board of pardons to act on her case.
Three years ago, a baseball to the head injured Trey Brown's brain, causing muscle spasms and pain so bad the boy threatened to harm himself. His parents took him to Colorado and purchased cannabis oil legally, then brought it home to Minnesota, where it was still an illegal, controlled substance. In court documents, the family reported that occasional doses of the oil caused a dramatic improvement in Trey's symptoms. But then someone tipped off the county that the Brown family was giving their child pot.
Child Protective Services looked into the case, the Lac qui Parle Sheriff's Department confiscated the oil and the county attorney brought charges in June.
By this time next year, parents and patients around Minnesota will be buying cannabis oil legally to treat symptoms of conditions ranging from cancer to glaucoma to terminal illnesses. Brown's prosecution alarmed patients who are already using cannabis and waiting for state law to catch up.
Cassie Traun of St. Paul turned to marijuana after every other drug therapy to control her Crohn's disease had failed. The disease has been in remission for five and a half years now and she sees Brown's prosecution as "completely heartless."
"It strikes close for me, because every day, I'm committing illegal acts," said Traun, who launched the petition drive on Brown's behalf and who plans to travel to Madison to stand vigil outside the courtroom. "It's not OK for people to be charged for trying to take care of their health, or their children's health."
Brown will appear in court on Wednesday morning, when her attorney will appeal for the case to be dismissed.