CLINTON, Minn.-- Big Stone County, on Minnesota's far
western edge, is home to not a single stoplight. Here, the Botker family
farm is more lonesome than ever.
Mark and Maria Botker's quest to
gain medical marijuana to treat their daughter's epilepsy has forced
their family of five 800 miles apart. Next month, they will become front
and center of a controversial debate over whether to legalize medical
marijuana in Minnesota.
Another Minnesota family from Brainerd
moved to Colorado this month to gain the same access for their daughter,
and two more families are already planning the move.
marijuana is legal in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but
momentum builds as six more states confront the issue again this year,
including Minnesota. The issue faces emotional hurdles with both medical
and legal opposition. Already, Governor Mark Dayton has said he won't
sign off as long as law enforcement agencies are opposed.
Botkers said they didn't have the time to wait for roadblocks in
Minnesota. So Mark Botker and his two oldest daughters live in Clinton
on the family farm, while Maria and their youngest daughter Greta packed
up a moving truck, and bought a new home south of Denver. They are
among hundreds of marijuana refugees moving to Colorado from all over
the country for a special strain of medical marijuana believed to help
children with epilepsy.
Greta Botker, 7, is known as "G" to everyone in Clinton, is
recognizable by her bewitching smile and loud squeals. First diagnosed
with infantile spasms at five months old, she's never been able to say a
Every seizure - up to fifteen a day - causes trauma to the
brain and slowly stunts her development. She walks unsteadily and cannot
The seizures continued to another diagnosis of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
is a severe form of epilepsy that usually appears before 4 years of age
and includes several different types of seizures. To date, fifteen
prescriptions, special diets, even brain surgery haven't stopped its'
"If you would have asked me a year ago if I would
have had my daughter on marijuana I would have thought you were crazy. I
mean, really?" said Maria Botker. "But when you have put your daughter
through something as scary as brain surgery like we did with Greta about
three years ago, this seems like nothing, really nothing."
Botker, 38, is a longtime nurse who measures the dose carefully. The
medical marijuana is an oil extract and comes in liquid form, which
Greta swallows in a gel capsule three times a day. She said after two
months, seizures are now reduced to four to five a day.
22 hours without a seizure, that's unheard of for her. Unheard of. This
makes sense, it's a simple choice," said Botker.
The oil is now called Charlotte's Web and is grown in the panorama of
Colorado Springs, where Jordan Stanley and his brothers run one of the
largest medical marijuana grows in the state. They bred a plant low in
THC, the compound that creates the marijuana high, and boosted another
compound, called CBD.
"CBD is non-psychoactive, and is
anti-inflammatory triggers neurological system," said Jordan Stanley.
"That's what industrial hemp is really. You'd have to smoke a joint the
size of a telephone pole to get high from it."
Today, their Realm of Caring non-profit
foundation provides cannabis oil to children with seizures at a low
cost. Realm of Caring opened up a national waiting list this month, and
nearly families signed on in the first day. The organization receives up
to 5,000 phone calls a month, and is scrambling to grow two new
greenhouses full of Charlotte's Web.
Charlotte's Web is named
after Charlotte Figi, the first child to begin taking the cannabis oil
two years ago. Her mother Paige had no options left for her daughter,
she asked the Stanley Brothers to continue breeding a plant low in CBD.
has Dravet Syndrome and she was end of life. We had failed every
medicine," said Paige Figi, her mother. "We are two years into this,
she's off all her pharmaceuticals. She doesn't use her feeding tube,
doesn't use her wheelchair."
Figi said her daughter's seizures are
reduced from 1,200 a month, to only a few each month. Just as she
explained the progress, KARE 11 witnessed Charlotte have one of those
seizures, convulsing severely in the middle of the greenhouses that grow
the plant named after her.
As hard it is to watch, Figi explain the heartbreak of parents of
children with seizures, saying the cannabis isn't a cure but eases the
"I'm concerned as a mother is the honeymoon over?
Logically, no it's some sort of trigger like she's sick, these kids any
seizure can kill them she can die," said Figi. "That is what we are
dealing with, that's what all these parents are coming here for."
Families call it the marijuana miracle, even when the nation's two
leading epilepsy organizations warn against it, arguing research and FDA
approval is needed.
"A year ago none of us thought this would be a
potential miracle. And now everyone thinks it is. I think we finally
found it. Think we did," said Maria Botker. "It's saving my daughter. Am
I going to wait around and watch my daughter have 12-15 seizures a day
because something is not FDA approved or something doesn't have that
kind of clearance or research backing it? Absolutely not," said Botker.
taking Charlotte's web, Maria Botker says daughter's reduced seizures
are shorter with faster recovery. After two months, Greta's now off
several other prescriptions.
Other families following in similar
paths as the Botkers report the same progress. Anna and Biagio
Burriesci, of New York City, moved to Colorado recently for their two
year old daughter Grace, who has Dravet syndrome. They report her 300
seizures a day are down by 60 percent.
"Ware at the forefront. We
are the pioneers. In ten years from now, everybody will look back on it
and say, remember when all those families moved to Colorado and started
this entire move?" said Anna Burriesci.
Rachael and Shawn Selmeski
moved to the Denver area for their daughter Maggie. At 20 months, her
form of epilepsy is still mystifying doctors. Already, they say Maggie
is more alert and responsive.
"She was really was just a shell of a body before this," said Rachael Selmeski.
The American Epilepsy Society
said, "While there are some anecdotal reports of marijuana use in
treating epilepsy, scientific evidence for the routine use of marijuana
for this indication is lacking. The lack of information does not mean
that marijuana is ineffective for epilepsy. It merely means that we do
not know if marijuana is a safe and efficacious treatment for epilepsy."
The organization emphasized it is against federal law to possess or use marijuana.
addition, little is known about the long term effects of using
marijuana in infants and children, and chronic exposure during
adolescence has been shown to have lasting negative effects on cognition
and mood. Such safety concerns coupled with a lack of evidence of
efficacy in controlled studies result in a risk/benefit ratio that does
not support use of marijuana for treatment of seizures at this time."
The Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota,
which advocates for people struggling with epilepsy, also joined in the
concerns in conjunction with the National Epilepsy Foundation,
emphasizing research into medical marijuana and seizure control is not
"It's gut wrenching to see these families, families we
have been working with for years, but more research has to be done. So
the position is we need to do more research before we draw firm
conclusions about the effectiveness of it. ," said Executive Director
Kopplin said research is beginning with one Minnesota family is
already part of federal clinical trials underway at the National
Institute of Health.
"It's really a difficult position. Without the medical support, it won't move forward," said Kopplin.
A bill sponsored
by Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, and Sen. Scott Dibble,
DFL-Minneapolis, would legalize medical marijuana for several conditions
under a doctors' approval. Patients could possess up to 2.5 ounces of
marijuana or grow up to a dozen marijuana plants of their own or buy the
product from a dispensary.
Heather Azzi, policital director with Minnesotans for Compassionate Care,
the organization leading the fight, said both bills have bipartisan
support and have the maximum number of co-authors allowed by law.
polling shows that more than three-quarters (76%) of Minnesota voters
support changing state law to allow people with serious and terminal
illnesses to use medical marijuana," said Azzi.
Azzi said the
health policy committee will discuss the measure soon after the
legislature reconvenes on February 25th. The bill will be heard by
several committees before the House and Senate will be able to vote on
it and then present it to Governor Dayton for his signature or veto.
People in Clinton ask lawmakers consider Greta, who turned once skeptical town liberal with their love.
it's helping this little girl be healthy, why can't she come home?
That's what's hard to understand," said Janine Teske, a family friend
who has written letters to lawmakers.
The fight also includes legal opposition. Every law enforcement
association in Minnesota opposes legalization. John Kingrey, Executive
Director of the Minnesota County Attorney Association said while the law
enforcement community is supportive and sympathetic to medical solution
and the suffering of families, but worries it could get into the wrong
"It's the genie in a bottle, and when you got plants floating around, it's going to get out," said Kingrey.
Minnesota Sheriffs' Association says in the states where there are
medical marijuana laws, research shows an increase in juveniles and high
school students that have accessed medical marijuana from their
parents, according to Executive Director Jim Franklin.
probably not a law enforcement officer who doesn't have a connection to a
medical factor involving a friend, a child, a loved one. So we are very
sympathetic," said Franklin. "I have suggested we are looking at the
wrong level in the state of Minnesota. We should be looking at the
federal level of doing this for all states under some areas of medical
research and branching this out. If it's good in Minnesota, why is not
good in the rest of the country?"
Mark Botker hopes opponents will see otherwise.
"Someday I'd like to help grow medical marijuana and help supply all
the kids who need this - not only kids but adults. I think there's a
great need for it."
Between Minnesota and Colorado stands a great
divide. Stigma must be scaled. Until then, Greta continues her climb,
and a part of Clinton is still missing.
"She just needs her family
around her. They are her joy. And she is theirs," said Maria Botker.
"It's beautiful out here. I love it from what it's providing us. It's
not home. Not home. Never will be."