According to a report from the Arizona Department of Health Services, in January of 2017, there were roughly 120, 000 medical marijuana cardholders in the State of Arizona, of which nearly half are 18 to 40 years old and comprises of more men than women. While marijuana is legal for medical use in the state as established by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act passed in 2010, it does not permit use for recreational purpose, a clear rejection of Proposition 205 in November 2016. As with most medical marijuana laws across the country, they were inspired by a personal story of a child suffering from a debilitating condition and a fight to legally use medical cannabis for treatment. Arizona shares a similar story, and in 2014, a Mesa boy, Zander Welton became the spark that lit the fire that affirmed the state’s medical marijuana law.
Zander’s Path to Medical Marijuana
Before his first birthday, Zander Welton began having seizures that were related to a rare condition called cortical dysplasia that is characterized by an improper development of the top layer of the brain, and is one of the primary causes of epilepsy. Several violent seizures each night were not uncommon for Zander, and by the age of 5, he had done two surgeries in which pieces of his brain were removed. However, long-term relief always appeared out of reach despite the prescription medications administered. Desperate to find some kind of new treatment that could ameliorate their child’s condition, the Weltons were encouraged by CNN reporter Sanjay Gupta's 2013 documentary, "Why I Changed My Mind on Weed," which highlights the potential benefits of cannabis for kids prone to seizures, and as such, decided to set out on the medical marijuana journey for the sake of their child.
Zander’s Medical Marijuana Journey and the Courts
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act signed in November of 2010 made marijuana "and any mixture or preparation thereof" legal for patients with a “written certification” from a physician are allowed to use and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana in a 14-day period, for qualifying medical conditions, including Crohn’s Disease, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, and seizures (including Epilepsy), among other conditions. The medical marijuana community as well as the Weldon’s Mormon community supported their decision to try medical marijuana. The Weltons received their first tincture of cannabis oil from a local dispensary, and the extract worked incredibly well, decreasing the number of seizures and improving Zander’s quality of life. He became more active and was able to go to school.
However, joy became sadness when a staunch opponent of medical marijuana, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery took steps that threatened to put the brakes on Zander’s cannabis treatment. On the basis of Arizona’s longstanding law that holds that marijuana resin is a narcotic, he Montgomery announced he would prosecute anyone — state-authorized medical-marijuana patients included— caught in possession of marijuana extracts. Fear of prosecution forced the Welton’s to stop Zander’s cannabidiol (CBD) oil treatment, with assistance from supporters and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) a lawsuit was filed against Montgomery and state officials in October 2013. The lawsuit sought to affirm that the 2010 medical-cannabis law permitted the use of extracts and to block Montgomery or other entities from prosecuting the Welton’s for treating their son’s epilepsy with the cannabis extract.
Thankfully, the Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper sided with Zander Welton in March of 2014 in a verdict that granted his parents and physicians the right to resume treating his seizure disorder with CBD cannabis oil derived from any and all parts of the cannabis plant without the threat of prosecution. Judge Cooper was unequivocal, ruling that nothing in the AMMA "limits the form in which patients may use medical marijuana.… The AMMA authorizes qualifying patients to use extracts, including CBD oil, prepared from the marijuana plant." While Zander’s treatment continued, overtime, it appeared to lose effectiveness, and he passed away in September of 2015.
In 2010, Arizona voters approved an initiative, Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) that legalized the medical use of marijuana. The parents of Zander Welton took advantage of this law in an attempt to treat their son who suffered from a rare seizure disorder with cannabis oil. Though the law was in effect, they faced a roadblock that threatened to end their son’s treatment. With the help of the ACLU and the Courts working in their favor clarifying the law, the county could no longer interfere with Zanders treatment. Zander’s story and the case itself, has made its mark on cases involving sick kids who could use medical marijuana to treat their condition.