A Texas judge ruled that a father is still qualified to care for his disabled teenager after he was reported to Child Protective Services for allowing her to use a cannabis vapor to treat her severe autism.
Seven years ago, a neighbor pitched the Texas father, Mark Zartler, on the idea of using medical marijuana to treat his daughter. Born three months premature, Zartler’s now-18-year-old daughter Kara was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and severe autism.
According to the Dallas Morning News, things really took a turn for the worst when Kara turned 4 years old and began to suffer from fits of self-abuse. She was hitting herself so hard in the face she broke bones. At one point, her school recorded her hitting herself 3,000 times in one day.
Despite reservations, when her family gave Kara a medical marijuana brownie their neighbor gave them, it changed their lives. On a family road trip — which used to be synonymous with violent outbursts in the back seat, Kara sat peacefully for 5 hours watching the Texas landscape speed by outside her window.
The positive results inspired the family to become active in the recent medical marijuana push in Texas. Sadly, their efforts to let the world know about the success of Kara’s experience with medical cannabis might have led to their undoing in the hands of the wrong judge.
In an attempt to share Kara’s story and advance the Texas medical cannabis debate, Mark recorded and released a video of him administering vapor through a breathing mask and the following results.
The video went on to make waves across the web. After 70 million views, Child Protective Services launched an investigation into Mark for physically abusing Kara. In Texas, giving a child an illegal drug is considered abuse. While Child Protective Services was investigating, it also came time for a hearing around Kara’s custody as an adult. In most cases, a guardianship hearing is pretty standard, but Mark’s activism added a twist.
While most parents in a guardianship hearing would seek to prove their child is medically incapable of living alone and caring for themselves, Mark had to prove he was still capable of being a parent despite the CPS case.
After a full family outing and testimony by both parents, Judge Brenda Hull Thompson ruled on the situation. The court found both parents capable of being guardians for Kara, a big win for them and the rest of the parents in Texas dosing their children with medical cannabis.
Despite the success patterns that have been widely reported over the years for minors and medical cannabis, particularly when it comes to severe forms of epilepsy and autism, people like the Zartlers still have to live under threat of legal action with little to no protections around their decision.
Cannabis Now reached out to leading medical cannabis advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access to get their take on what happened in Texas.
“Obviously, this court’s decision is very much in line with what we advocate for,” said ASA Legislative Counsel David Mangone. “No parent should be punished for what medicine they give their child. What you see in a lot of family courts around the country is a standard that’s known with varying terminology, but what it comes down to is the best interest of the child.”
In Mangone’s eyes, this whole case showed to him and to the ASA as an organization that the court believes “these parents are acting in their child’s best interest.”
“You don’t want to have anybody, let alone children, on some of these harsh pharmaceutical regiments where there are terrible side effects and can often make some symptoms worse. For these parents to find any relief in alleviating their child’s symptoms it’s obviously going to be in the child’s best interest,” Mangone told Cannabis Now. “There is some disagreement in whether cannabis plays a role in that discussion, but the video, and other ones like it, provide pretty clear examples that this is helping children not hurting them.”
Mangone said that he thinks the issue of protecting parents who administer medical marijuana to their children doesn’t have a higher profile in the national cannabis legalization conversation because of the inconsistent application of both federal and state law.
“Obviously, under federal law, cannabis remains an illegal controlled substance. But in state law, there hasn’t been a uniform push to include parental rights protections when it comes to custody decisions all across the board. There is certainly some states that have those protections written into their laws,” said Mangone.
ASA included parental rights in the scoring for its state-by-state report card on medical cannabis access, which it issued in February. Texas got an ‘F’ overall, with a zero out of ten score in parental protections contributing to that grade. Following the results of Kara’s case, and other parents in Texas being able to cite it as precedent, Mangone guessed that Texas’s score for parental protections would improve in the future, but that the issue still should be fixed in the Texas State Capitol, and in other state legislatures too.
“Particularly in the states where you do see these protections left out, you do see this recurring theme of protective custody issues coming up mainly because the legislators are not addressing it,” said Mangone.
Longtime cannabis researchers were thrilled to see this result coming out of a conservative-leaning state.
“It is heartening to see these rulings coming down in traditionally conservative states such as Texas,” said Dr. Amanda Reiman, who helped lead California’s effort to legalize cannabis leading up to the 2016 election while continuing to lecture at UC Berkeley.
“The idea that medical cannabis use makes someone a bad parent, or that the decision to treat a severely ill child with cannabis is unacceptable is losing favor. This is expected of course in states like California, but the true test of social change is how these things play out in conservative areas,” said Reiman.