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A Utah mother is in hiding with her children, unable to return to her home out of fear that she could lose her children and face criminal charges because for seven months she had administered small doses of cannabis oils to her daughter who suffers from a congenital pituitary disease.
Sarah Ellett is in contact with the state Division of Child and Family Services and hopes to work through her issues, but her case points to the dangers faced by Utahns who use medical marijuana in violation of state and federal law.
"I'm not sure what to do," Ellett said in a phone interview Tuesday. "One thing I want to do is continue treating [her daughter] Remie, and if I stay in Utah, I can't keep treating her. … I can't take that chance because they will take her."
Caseworkers with the Division of Child and Family Services knocked on Ellett's door Monday afternoon, when she was feeding 3-year-old Remie, who suffers from panhypopituitarism, which has made it almost impossible for her to walk or eat without a feeding tube.
The caseworkers had been tipped off that Ellett was administering small amounts of cannabis oil, using a toothpick to put a small drop under her child's tongue. Ellett had been giving her daughter the oil for seven months and in that time she said the change had been dramatic.
A week after beginning to give Remie the oil last July, Remie was able to take 20 steps with her walker. She started swimming lessons and took two weeks of classes. Her focus improved and she was able to sit down with a book and concentrate.
Remie's digestion improved and for eight hours a day Ellett was able to remove the tube and bag that gave her continuous feedings and the child gained three pounds.
"She started jumping on the trampoline," Ellett said. "She just started being able to make movements. Instead of sitting there being the observer she started being a participant in the family."
The caseworkers who visited Ellett's home were asking questions about who was giving her instructions on her child's dosage. Ellett, had traveled last summer to Portland, Ore., where medical marijuana is legal, to consult with a doctor and get a medical marijuana card, but the substance remains illegal in Utah.
She asked the DCFS workers to leave and they agreed, and then the mother of four, unwilling to risk losing her children, packed up her family and left the home.
"I'm a stable person. I don't want to just up and leave with my children, move them away from the state, move them away from their father," said Ellett. "I know her health is more important than our location. I've been trying to be patient with the state of Utah, but the more this is going on, the more I know I'm going to be forced into not giving [Remie] the oil."
Lawyers for the state have assured the goal is not to take Remie from the home, Ellett said, but caseworkers did say that, even if the case is closed, the matter would be referred for potential criminal prosecution.
In Utah, providing a child with drugs can be up to a first degree felony, punishable by as much as 15 years in prison. A phone call to DCFS Tuesday seeking comment on how it handles cases like Ellett's was not returned.
"I don't have the intention to hurt anybody. There's no victim in this crime, if it is a crime," Ellett said.
Two bills are currently before the Utah Legislature to deal with medical cannabis programs.
One, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, would not help people like Ellett and her daughter, as it would only permit the use of cannabidiol oils extracts from marijuana plants that have had one of the active chemicals, THC, removed. It also would not allow the use of the oils by children.
The other, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, would allow parents like Ellett to get oils that include THC for their children, with a doctor's recommendation, and would specifically protect parents from becoming the focus of DCFS investigations or custody battles for being part of the medical marijuana program.
But Ellett says that, even if Madsen's bill passes, it will be months before it can be implemented and help people like Remie.
"Do I just leave everything and go to Oregon where we have our [medical marijuana] card?" Ellett said.
For now, Ellett is weighing her options. A GoFundMe.com page that had been set up to help defray medical expenses for Remie and her other children now may be used for moving expenses if she has to leave the state.