Julie was diagnosed with a spinal defect nine years ago, and chronic vomiting syndrome not long after that, and was prescribed a slew of drugs to combat depression, anxiety, pain, nausea and more. “I was so sick of prescription medication,” she said. “I couldn’t live like that.” Julie lives in Hawaii, where medical marijuana is legal — but doesn’t allow for dispensaries. After experimenting with marijuana and realizing it alleviated many of her symptoms, she got her medical card and set to growing at home with her husband, and their eight-year-old daughter.
Her daughter, Lili, was introduced to gardening at school, and began asking questions about what she then called her mom’s “smoking plant.” At first, Julie’s husband, Eric, dealt with Lili’s questions, but they ultimately decided to be upfront with their inquisitive daughter. “She’s dealt with me being sick for so long, we figured why not?” she said. Julie and Eric keep all consumption away from their daughter, and thought about how they’d explain her mom’s medicine to Lili before she was even old enough to ask questions. When the time came, they explained that Julie’s medicine is legal because she has a medical card, and that some people use it without a card to get a buzz. “We took a conservative approach,” Eric said. “Our approach may not be right…we do the best we can.” Lili has always known what the plant was used for, and even helps her parents harvest it in the summertime. She can do everything from mix nutrients and compost to prune the plants. She’s even starting to understand the difference between the sativa and indica varieties. Julie says she’d “rather have her be educated.” “I want her to be involved because it’s affecting her life too,” she said. And they may be on to something.
A 2011 study conducted by the Motherisk Program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children found that children who grew up in homes of marijuana growers were healthy and drug-free — and that removing them from the home can cause much more damage than letting the children stay. Other parents haven’t been so lucky. CNN recently reported that Child Protective Services handles medical marijuana cases the same way it handles all other drugs, according to a spokeswoman, because the substance is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the Federal Government — the same category as heroin or ecstasy. Several families in California have seen their children sent to foster care and have had to fight to regain custody.
“It’s still a very real concern,” Eric said, and it’s the reason the family asked that their last name not be used. Julie and Eric don’t sell marijuana and the only grow the allowed number of plants. “We have a responsible household about it,” he said. Julie and Eric have been lucky in that their friends and family understand her need for the medicinal plant, and that their daughter is educated and well aware of the plant’s uses. “They’re happy I’m off the prescription medication,” Julie said of the support she’s received from her friends and family for her marijuana use. “They’re happy I’m not sick.” When Julie does get sick and needs to go to the hospital — which Eric says is about every two months — Lili isn’t traumatized by it. “When [Julie] has to go [to the hospital], my daughter knows she has to grab a coke for her because it settles her stomach,” he said. “It’s kind of sad, but it’s kind of a proud thing too.”
Despite her interest in gardening the plant, Lili has no interest in consuming it. Julie says that Lili is more wary of prescription medication because of all of Julie’s hospital visits. In fact, she hates the smell of smoke. She prefers that Mom medicates with edibles, but that isn’t always possible if Julie is feeling nauseous because of her illness. “She’ll give Mom a few coughs every now and then,” Eric said. “She’s a busy kid; it’s not really an issue.” But not all kids have the education and disinterest for the substance that Lili does. After Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, the number of children poisoned by eating marijuana-infused cookies, brownies, sodas or candy spiked, US News reported in May 2013.
When Julie made infused cookies, Lili asked if she could make some “regular ones” for her to eat too. Eric says she wasn’t interested because of the marijuana content. She was interested “because my wife is a damned-good cook!” he said. Lili even has dreams of one day opening a dispensary so that her mom “never has to be sick again.” Julie isn’t sure that that’s the life she wants her daughter to pursue, but nonetheless, she’s thrilled Lili is so involved. “It’s kind of cool that she cares enough about her mom she wants to help out,” she said. “It’s given her her mother back.” Editor-in-Chief Note: The day after we interviewed Julie she was evicted for her medicinal garden.
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BY KATHARINE LOTZE