March 9, 2016

‘A purpose to everything under the sun, including marijuana’

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Paige Figi waits for the school bus with her 9-year-old daughter Charlotte. Charlotte has Dravet Syndrome and is using CBD oil to treat her seizures. She is now able to attend school for the first time in her life. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

Paige Figi waits for the school bus with her 9-year-old daughter Charlotte. Charlotte has Dravet Syndrome and is using CBD oil to treat her seizures. She is now able to attend school for the first time in her life. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

The Sanley brothers pose for a photograph during a party in December, 2014. Back Row: J. Austin, Jordan, Jared; front row: Jesse, Joel, Jon Stanley. Photo courtesy of Stanley Brothers

The Stanley brothers pose for a photograph during a party in December 2014. Back row, left to right: J. Austin, Jordan, Jared; front row: Jesse, Joel, Jon Stanley. Photo courtesy of Stanley brothers

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (RNS) Four years ago, an evangelical Christian family entered Colorado’s booming medical marijuana marketplace and developed an extract called Charlotte’s Web.

The Stanley brothers, all six of whom attended Colorado Springs Christian School, saw God’s hand at work when some local parents found that giving the dark oil to their epileptic children ended their violent seizures.

“That’s when it really sank in,” said Joel Stanley, the eldest of the brothers. “This is not a fluke. This is not going away. There is a purpose to everything under the sun, including the marijuana plant.”

Word got out, and over the next year and a half, more than 500 families relocated to Colorado. These “medical refugees” strained family bonds and budgets to give their kids Charlotte’s Web, not available legally in many states.


RELATED STORY: Marijuana culture in Colorado


Realm of Caring CEO, Heather Jackson, left, visits with Danette Bussey and her daughter Alexa on a recent visit to Colorado from New Jersey. Alexa has epilepsy and they came to the state for CBD oil. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

Realm of Caring CEO Heather Jackson, left, visits with Danette Bussey and her daughter Alexa on a recent visit to Colorado from New Jersey. Alexa has epilepsy and they came to the state for CBD oil. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

As the successes mounted, Stanley said, “it was a transformation for me, and I was angry that I had been told marijuana was evil and of no medical benefit. At that point, it was very easy for me to reconcile marijuana with my Christian faith.”

The Stanleys, along with two of the initial parents, Paige Figi and Heather Jackson, founded a nonprofit called Realm of Caring to help the relocated families.  Most of Realm’s $600,000-plus annual budget is funded with profits from the family business, CW Botanicals.

The morality of marijuana

Serving medical refugees wasn’t enough. Jackson and Figi decided to help parents change laws in their home states so everyone could return home with the extract. Before they knew it, these pioneering marijuana moms had helped change laws in 19 states in 18 months: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Idaho’s governor vetoed the bill there.

Paige Figi waits for the school bus with her 9-year-old daughter Charlotte. Charlotte has Dravet Syndrome and is using CBD oil to treat her seizures. She is now able to attend school for the first time in her life. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

Paige Figi waits for the school bus with her 9-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Charlotte has Dravet syndrome and is using CBD oil to treat her seizures. She is now able to attend school for the first time in her life. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

Jackson, who said her Christian faith is everything to her (it’s “the pie, not a piece of pie,” she said), talked to her minister as she wrestled with the morality of marijuana. “I’m a byproduct of the 1980s and ‘Just Say No,’ so I grew up thinking this was evil,” she said.

Stacey Mobley, minister of the church of Christ of Colorado Springs, an independent, Bible-based congregation, said members support Jackson’s work.

“God made the plant, and said in Genesis 1:31 that everything he made was very good,” said Mobley, who opposes recreational marijuana. “We are firsthand witnesses of its benefits in the providential healing of Zaki, and I believe Heather is driven by obligation because she is a Christian to do good to all.”


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Colorado Senator Cory Gardner introduces the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act in Washington, D.C. on May 13, 2015. Left to Right are Paige Figi, US Representative Scott Perry, Annette Maughan, Heather Jackson, Haley Smith, Lisa Smith and Liz Gorman. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado introduces the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 2015. Left to right behind him are Paige Figi, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, Annette Maughan, Heather Jackson, Haley Smith, Lisa Smith and Liz Gorman. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

Their initial victory came in Utah, home to some of the nation’s most restrictive alcohol laws. Jackson quickly won over the Legislature’s conservative caucus, and the two moms worked with parents of epileptic children and supporters of medical marijuana to pressure politicians. Charlee’s Law, named after a Utah child with epilepsy, was signed into law in March 2014, a century after the state outlawed marijuana.

“This was our first indication that we can actually do this,” said Jackson, a churchgoing Christian who will speak this April at Q, a national conference in Denver designed to help Christian leaders address contemporary culture.

‘Christ commands us to care for the sick’

Charlotte’s Web was named after Paige Figi’s 9-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who has Dravet syndrome.

In 2015, Paige Figi, who was raised Catholic and had no previous experience in social movements, founded the Coalition for Access Now to lobby nationwide.
“I’m not an activist,” said Figi. “I’m very introverted. I don’t like the spotlight. I’m just the mother of a sick kid who is looking for best treatment with the least side effects.

“But I was seeing Charlotte’s story over and over. Kids were walking out of wheelchairs. Doctors were astounded. After witnessing all this with my own eyes, I realized I couldn’t stand idly by and do nothing.”

Figi has made friends in statehouses across the country, including Georgia state Rep. Allen Peake.

“She’s the godmother of this movement, and I’m privileged to be working alongside her,” said Peake, who championed his state’s medical marijuana bill known as Haleigh’s Hope Act, which was signed into law in April 2015.

Colorado Mother Paige Figi talks with Senator Gardner and Representative Perry in Washington D.C. on May 13, 2015. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez

Paige Figi talks with Sen. Cory Gardner, left, and Rep. Scott Perry in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 2015. Photo courtesy of Nichole Montanez


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“I’m a Christian guy, so to even get into this space has been a significant paradigm shift for me,” said Peake, a Southern Baptist. “But this is a compassion issue for me. Christ commands us to care for the sick.”

Peake has visited Colorado to meet with Georgia families that relocated for Charlotte’s Web, and he admits he has illegally transported bottles of the oil back to Georgia to help families who can’t get it there. He also founded a charity called Journey of Hope that provides Georgia families with financial assistance so they can relocate to Colorado.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to give them access,” said Peake, who condemns the “lunacy” of federal drug laws that “make criminals out of parents and citizens who only want medicine to improve the quality of their lives.”

Pot prohibitionists

Federal drug laws dating to the Nixon administration group marijuana with other Schedule I drugs such as heroin and LSD that have “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.”

Charlotte’s Web doesn’t make patients “high.” It’s low in THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives pot its buzz, but is high in CBD, which has healing properties. The needed CBD can be extracted from hemp, marijuana’s non-druggy industrial cousin, so Peake has introduced legislation to allow Georgia to grow hemp.

Many Protestant groups, including mainline Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians, support some form of medical marijuana, but most evangelicals remain pot prohibitionists, like their anti-alcohol ancestors of a century ago.

Peake’s hemp cultivation bill is opposed by the Georgia Baptist Convention, which views hemp legalization as an incremental step toward liberalized drug laws. The GBC’s spokesman called medical marijuana an oxymoron, similar to “jumbo shrimp,” and the GBC’s “Resolution on the Dangers of Marijuana” describes pot as a gateway to further drug abuse, addiction, health problems, psychosis and crime.

Colorado’s medical marijuana moms now aim to change federal law. Last May, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, introduced the Coalition for Access Now’s Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act of 2015 in the U.S. Senate. Senate bill 1333 has already attracted dozens of co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle.

“We’re not promoting recreational marijuana,” said Paige Figi. “We’re trying to fix a mistake in our laws. This is how the American system of government works.”

Meanwhile, new medical refugees keep arriving. Danette Bussey and daughter Alexa recently visited Realm of Caring from New Jersey, where medical marijuana is available but not CBD oil.

“Our doctor told us our best hope is to go to Colorado,” she said.

(Steve Rabey is a contributor to RNS)

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  • Tom Speed

    A true Christian would have given away Charlottes Web clones for free, instead of turning it into a profitable franchise.

  • Richard Rush

    “There is a purpose to everything under the sun, including the marijuana plant.”

    Does that also include, for just a few examples, poison ivy, birth defects, tornadoes, mosquitoes, cancer, earthquakes, epidermolysis bullosa, lions eating zebras, multiple sclerosis, tsunamis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, vitiligo, bedbugs, and Timothy McVeigh?

  • Ben in oakland

    Nah. That just proves that God is one of those comedians who tells you that he is love, on the one hand, and here is how he loves you, on the other.

    btw, You left out Donald Trump, Frankie Graham, American candy bars, anything from McD’s, Ted Cruz, Brian Brown, Vlad-boy Putin, and the Republican Party.

  • It only proves you can take the Bible and twist the scriptures to fit any agenda. The composition of Heroin ….does God sanction it too? How about Plural marriages……they can be found in the Bible too? Unbelievable the lengths some will use to benefit them. We have medical M in Michigan and the push is on now to have recreational M on the next ballot. I am sure it will pass too. Medical M is only the Trojan Horse to more drug use.

  • MarkE

    Sorry, guys. You completely miss the point of Free Will. Many of these “bad” things are the result of our choices, or they are manifestations that we humans are not perfect. We are not puppets or robots. God cares enough that he allows us to make decisions, even bad ones. Just like a caring parent allows their child to make decisions, even if they know some will cause them pain or heartburn. The “remedy” is that, Christians believe, this earthly mortal life is not the only life we’ll have.

  • Absolutely love this. Cannabis and its medicinal properties are made by God so why do we treat it like a dangerous accident of creation? So it’s no surprise that bringing it back to how it was originally created- lowering the THC- is the answer, not banning it outright in favor of potentially harmful manmade pharmaceuticals instead! I see this scenario over and over again researching natural health. The most beneficial thing long term is whatever is most natural, whatever is the closest to how God created it.

  • DougSlug

    It amazes me how marijuana is treated so much differently than alcohol. Every argument you can apply to marijuana to dissuade its use applies equally to alcohol. QUIZ: Which of the following arguments against marijuana also apply to alcohol?

    – is often abused
    – is considered by many to be immoral and anti-social
    – adversely affects cognitive and motor functions
    – may create dependency
    – may cause poor judgment
    – may cause bodily harm with long-term use
    – may impact interpersonal and family relationships
    – may affect fetal development
    – may lead to unwanted pregnancy
    – may interfere with ability to raise children
    – may lead the user away from religious practice

    ANSWER: All of them. Yet alcohol is legal in the US, and when it was briefly outlawed, all hell broke loose. Therefore, what possible argument is there to keep marijuana illegal as long as alcohol is legal? (The morality question is, of course, a different matter.)

  • @MarkE: So Mark, in your opinion, afflictions such as birth defects, tornadoes, cancer, earthquakes, all manner of painful and fatal diseases, and so forth are a consequence of having a loving divine parent who wants the best for us?

    Or did you mean to say something else?

  • K

    Mr. Garvey, I kindly remind you that “heroin” is already in use grade form of morphine and other opiates for pain management! What this article is specifically talking about is a medical form of cannabis. I would love for you to explain the difference to me.

  • Ben in oakland

    I understand the a tried of free will. I’m a great believer in it.

    What I don’t understand is a god who will tell you he loves you, but burn you forever because he failed to get you the message that not believing in him will fry you for eternity.

    Or a god that gives you the free will not to believe in him at all, but will fry you forever if you don’t.

    Or a god who gives one message to Unitarians, another message to episcopalians, another message to Methodists, another message to baptists, a vastly different message to Mormons, and an entirely different message to Muslims who like to fly airplanes into buildings.

  • Mike

    Those things are the consequences of sin, brought on by excercising free-will to disobey God JC. There is a false equivelance here. An extract used to lessen epileptic seizures is not the same as poison ivy. You don’t use poison ivy for medicinal purposes. But this marijuana extract, like most medicine, is applying a lessor of two evils for a positive physical outcome. Healing from God is the best answer in all cases, but is more complicated than we sometimes understand. Marijuana is also 8 times more carcinogenic than tobacco, (which BTW is also created by God and is under the sun). It’s how these things are used that makes them good or bad. I live in Colorado and have seen kids run with the idea recreational marijuana is safe because the government legalized it. But study after study shows it is more harmful than good under most circumstances.

  • Joel Munson

    The brothers gave it away for free as long as they could afford to. Now they sell it at-cost, and some people still get it for free. Besides, the Bible tells us there is nothing wrong with making money.

  • DougSlug

    Robyn, you should try making a point instead of just being insulting. It makes for a more interesting conversation.

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  • Audrey Hatfield

    “Christians?” FALSE! “Now they sell it at cost” FALSE! Do some research on all of that…

  • Thomas Ryscavage MD

    If you smoke, drink or eat marijuana you are an addict. It is an entrance drug as well and it is only an amount of time where you will not get the ‘high’ that you once did experience from this drug and you will be looking for a stronger drug. Liquid marijuana has ALWAYS been accessible to treat patients with end stage cancer. That route is as far as marijuana use except for certain neurological childhood diseases should go. The addicted family will, of course, steal the child’s drug. If I were going to do major heart surgery on you tomorrow would you care if I spent the night before smoking this drug? If you answer ‘no’ then you are an addict. If you answer ‘yes’ then you only want the drug for yourself and therefore, you are an addict.

  • Heather

    Let’s see…would I want you to have been calm and relaxed the night before my surgery? Absolutely! There isn’t a single correct fact in your entire post, just so you know. Starting with addiction. Addiction, by definition, is a physical dependence on a substance. For some people, alcohol is addictive. Opiates are addictive for many people. Marijuana, on the other hand, is not an addictive substance. That’s not my opinion, that’s what the science says.

  • Jeff black

    Hard to let go of big pharmaceuticals payoffs ain’t it dr……

  • Esther

    If you ever see a child have a seizure, it is awful beyond words. It is a miracle to witness the dramatic improvements these children make after using CBD oil. The parents are nothing but thankful…
    There are doctors who prescribe plenty of Opiates… Are all those patients drug addicts? What about antidepressants?
    Why not Cannabis? To believe it has no health benefits is believing a lie. I know there are folks that will have a glass of wine in the evening, or a bottle of beer. My dad would come home from an upper level government job and always enjoy a can of beer before dinner. Did that make him an alcoholic?
    Personally if my doctor smoked Cannabis the night before a surgery it wouldn’t bother me, same as if he had a glass of wine or beer.

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  • Terry

    YOU CALL YOURSELF A DOCTOR!¿¿??? LOL. SHAME ON YOU!! DO YOUR MEDICAL RESEARCH!! STUDY THE AWESOME ENDOCANABANOID SYSTEM THAT GOD ALMIGHTY GAVE US!! THE ONLY PLACE CANNABINOIDS ARE FOUND IS IN THE CANNABIS PLANT! WE HAVE RECEPTORS ALL OVER OUR BODY!!! THE CANNABINOIDS FIT LIKE A KEY IN A LOCK! SO UNLOCK YOUR MIND AND DO YOUR MEDICAL/SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH YOURSELF SINCE YOU DON’T BELIEVE THE MILLIONS OF LIFE SAVING/CHANGING TESTIMONIES FROM REAL PEOPLE!! YOU SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO PRACTICE MEDICINE!! OH, NOW I SEE WHY YOU’RE SO AGAINST IT. … YOU’RE PROBABLY ONE OF THOSE PILL PUSHING DOCTORS THAT WON’T PROFIT ONE PENNY IF PEOPLE START GETTING HEALED BY A PLANT THEY CAN GROW THEMSELVES! AND THEY DON’T NEED TO GET HIGH TO GET THE MEDICINAL BENEFITS FROM IT. GET YOUR HEAD OUTTA YOUR BUTT AND DO YOUR RESEARCH DOC!! DID YOU EVEN KNOW THAT CHEMOTHERAPY WAS DERIVED FROM MUSTARD GAS!! BUT THAT’S OK TO PUMP SOMEONE’S BODY FULL OF POISON, BURN IT WITH RADIATION, VIOLENT…