Bringing her case to peers: Madison mother says giving medical cannabis to son to ease his pain is not child endangerment
MADISON — Minnesota’s debate over medical cannabis is headed to a courtroom in Lac qui Parle County, where Angela Brown wants a jury of her peers to hear her case.
The 38-year-old mother from Madison is accused of giving her son medical cannabis to treat his pain from a traumatic brain injury.
Brown said Thursday that she has no intention of pleading guilty to gross misdemeanor charges of endangering a child, permitting to be present when possessing a controlled substance; and contribute to need for child protection, all filed against her by Lac qui Parle County.
The charges carry a possible sentence of two years in prison and a $6,000 fine.
She is considering an offer by an Oregon-based attorney known for work on medical cannabis cases to represent her pro bono, and rejecting the advice of a court-appointed attorney to plead guilty, she said. “We’re going to fight this, we’re going to fight it by a jury,’’ said Brown.
She’s been the sudden focus of media attention, ever since she posted an account of her plight on Facebook in hopes friends would come to court and support her at a first appearance on Monday.
She was charged June 19 after she had surrendered a tincture of cannabis oil to a Lac qui Parle Sheriff’s deputy. The criminal charges allege that she had previously administered the oil to her 15-year-old son.
Her son, Trey, suffered a traumatic brain injury when struck by a baseball during a game with friends in April, 2011, she said.
Brown readily admits that she and her husband, David, their son Trey and his 10-year-old sibling made a trip earlier this year to Boulder, Colo. There, they acquired a tincture of cannabis oil from a medical laboratory.
Brown said her son suffers chronic pain from the brain injury, including migraines and severe muscle aches and spasms, and neck aches. Most troubling were episodes of self-harming behavior, including hitting and cutting himself. She and her husband feared their son would kill himself.
Brown said the family visited doctors and specialists, and pursued a wide range of therapies to treat him, but without much success.
The cannabinoid helped, right from the start, she said. “It took a good 75 percent of his pain away,’’ said Brown. About an hour after ingesting the oil, her son said he could feel the pressure in his brain start to release. “And you could visibly see the muscle spasms stopping,’’ she said.
The medical cannabis did not make her son high. Along with relieving his pain, it helped him sleep again.
She believes her legal troubles owe to “opening her mouth” during a visit with staff at the Lac qui Parle Valley School after the trip to Colorado. She said they asked her why her son was doing better, and she attributed it to the cannabinoid oil.
A Lac qui Parle County sheriff’s deputy and a social worker came calling on April 2, or shortly after that meeting.
Brown said she acquiesced to the sheriff deputy’s demand that she forfeit the tincture of oil for fear she would be arrested.
Absent the oil, her son’s troubles returned full force, she said.
Two emergency room visits followed and so did some help. In an ironic twist, doctors determined that part of her son’s problems were the result of being over-loaded with serotonin, caused by the legally prescribed medicines he was taking, she explained.
Brown said the journey to Colorado was motivated by a desire to save her son’s life, and her own research. It convinced her that medical cannabis offered the help her son needed, she said.
Her son’s injury in 2011 has put Brown and her husband on a financial tailspin. She said their medical bills — after insurance — run $300 to $500 a month. They’ve filed for bankruptcy, and fear losing a house they have been tearing apart to clear it of mold.
They are talking about moving to Colorado, where the strain of medical cannabis that helps their son is legal. While Minnesota will allow the use of medical cannabis a year from now, she said they do not believe the strains of cannabis to be permitted here will help her son.
And she asked: “Who would want to wait?’’
After the school episode, the couple transferred Trey to the Dawson-Boyd Schools. This year they are planning to homeschool.
Her husband drives truck for a milk processor, and she runs her own business as a massage therapist.
She’s not sure how the publicity surrounding her dilemma will play out in the small community. Recent news accounts have triggered an avalanche of phone calls and social message postings of support.
Most have come from people outside the area, but they’ve also had strong support from former co-workers of her husband, who had been employed at the now shuttered Corrections Corporation of America prison in Appleton.
“As I told my husband, this defines who your friends are. You don’t need a lot of friends, you just need a few really good ones on your side.’’
Her son is currently receiving counseling for anxiety. It has grown in severity since the charges were filed, as he blames himself for bringing these problems on her, said Brown.
She wants Minnesota to adopt medical cannabis laws like those in Oregon, Colorado and Washington. Minnesota’s are too restrictive to provide the help her son needs, she said.
Most of all, she wants her son to be able to use the cannabis oil again that helped him. “He was starting to feel like a normal child again,’’ she said. “It helped him sleep. I want that boy back, and the boy came back when he was on that oil.’’