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PHOTO: Lindsey Rinehart, left, and Sarah Caldwell, right, make an emotional plea for the return of their children from foster care.
Laustin is celebrating his 11th birthday, it is almost 80 degrees outside and sunny at his house in Boise, Idaho and his friends are over for a pool party. They run in and out of the house carrying squirt guns and sodas.
“Can we play basketball at the park across the street?” he asks his mom, Lindsey Rinehart. “No, you have a hoop in the front yard, stay in the front yard,” she says. As he goes to run outside, water from the pool trails on the carpet behind him, she stops him in his tracks. His fair skin is turning as red as his hair.
“Laustin honey, you need more sun block, you are burning up out there. Don’t go back out there until you put on more sun block.” He begrudgingly stops and goes to the bathroom to reapply the sun block.
As he runs back out the door to play with his friends Lindsey waits to hear it close behind him before turning back to me. “I am really scared, but I can’t show them how scared I am.” She is fighting back tears of betrayal, fear and physical pain trying to get the words out.
She can barely get off the sofa without wincing in pain. “I haven’t used marijuana since they were taken from me.” She is rapidly degenerating since stopping her medical marijuana therapy and reverting back to pharmaceutical drugs. Lindsey suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and lives in a constant state of pain– that was until she started using medical marijuana.
On April 23rd, while Lindsey and her husband Josh were away in Northern Idaho hiking and boating with Lindsey’s best friend Sarah Caldwell and another trusted friend, police came into their home without a valid warrant, searched their home and remanded theirs and Caldwell’s children into protective custody due to “imminent danger,” deemed by the police.
Josh and Lindsey rarely ever left town together, their sons Laustin, 11, and Elijah, 6, are both young and the Rinehart’s prefer not to leave them with a babysitter.
According to Boise police, a fifth grade friend of Laustin’s ate an unidentified “green leafy substance.” Laustin was called to the principal’s office and accused of bringing marijuana to school and giving it to the child. Boise police have not run a toxicology report on the child nor have they verified the leafy substance as marijuana.
“They kept asking him over and over if there was pot at our house,” says Rinehart “He kept saying no.” Laustin was brought to tears as the school officials questioned him repeatedly, “You have one last chance to tell the truth,” the school principal told him before calling the police.
Laustin knew his mother used a medicine that made her feel better but he didn’t know if she had it in the home or if so, where it would be. Laustin was telling the truth. The police came and took Laustin out of school to search his home.
“They brought our children here [Lindsey’s home] in the back of a cop car as if they were criminals,” says Sarah Caldwell.
Police began a search of Rinehart’s home at 4:18pm on the 23rd, by 7:45pm they had gotten a warrant signed for the search by a judge.
Caldwell’s children would spend the next three days in foster care; Rinehart’s would spend nearly three weeks in foster care.
A close personal friend of the family worked for CPS up until Lindsey’s story made the local news. The story appeared on a website for Idaho state employees, the friend was called into HR shortly after and asked to resign. The source must now remain anonymous for employment reasons.
“It sounds like it is hysteria to me, school hysteria, law enforcement hysteria. I think Laustin was targeted because Lindsey was so much of an advocate,” the source says.
“The Boise police department may consider me a criminal but I am not one,” says Rinehart.
LINDSEY’S BATTLE WITH MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS)
Lindsey has stopped using marijuana while working with CPS and Boise Police to keep custody of her children. In the month since she has discontinued her marijuana treatment her condition has rapidly degenerated.
“Before I used marijuana my right eyebrow and the right corner of my mouth sagged,” she says “It’s gonna go again soon. I can feel my eyebrow getting heavy, I can feel the pressure coming back.”
Rinehart has become very weak and spends her days suffering patches of violent burning pain. “I am fatigued and depressed, my teeth are rapidly degenerating, when the burning is so bad, with a full on attack, it hurts to give my kids hugs because everything hurts right now.” Rinehart’s arms and legs are littered with bruises.
Rinehart was diagnosed with MS six years ago. She had started experiencing vertigo and could not keep food down. She had just gotten married to her husband, Josh, a month and a half prior. She spent a stint in the hospital where she was prescribed Phenergren for her nausea and then Zofran, which was not covered on her insurance without a cancer diagnosis.
An MRI found five lesions in her brain, which led a neurologist to diagnose her with MS. At the time, Josh and Lindsey were trying to have a child together. The doctor warned her if she wanted to get pregnant to do it as soon as possible, the pharmaceuticals used to treat MS are far too toxic for a fetus to be exposed to.
Rinehart suffered a miscarriage before finally getting pregnant with her second son, Elijah. “When you are pregnant with MS, your body is supposed to protect the baby while you are pregnant. You are supposed to be fine up until you give birth and then suffer a gnarly attack.” Rinehart began experiencing attacks early in her second trimester and spent half her pregnancy enduring violent MS attacks.
An “attack” is an exacerbation of MS. Because it is a neurological disorder controlled by the lesions in her brain, any part of her body can be affected at any time. Rinehart has a lesion near her hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls body temperature.
Whenever she gets too cold her body begins to spasm. She is overcome with itching and burning sensations. “Burning is by far the worse. It feels like being dragged across hot pavement in 90-degree heat by a semi truck. Like your body is just flipping and slamming and burning and being drug down it,” she says.
Her hands are sometimes frozen in a cramping position. “You get ‘souvenirs’ out of these attacks,” she says despondently staring at her hands.
When Lindsey takes pharmaceutical medications, her bills run between $5000-$6,000 monthly.
A PATH TO ACTIVISM
Rinehart experimented with recreational marijuana use as a teen but did not look at it as a medical necessity until a few years ago. She began experimenting with cannabis treatment and found it to be very effective. “I realized I wasn’t spasming anymore,” she says.
Internet research led to her using it medically to treat her MS. “When I did the research about MS and marijuana I was able to verify all my suspicions about it.” She found studies, all foreign, as there are currently no legal studies in American research institutions. “I learned marijuana doesn’t just treat the symptoms of MS, it actually starts to repair them and slow the progression of the disease.”
“A lot of people dip their toes into things, when I got involved I jump in head first and swim as hard and as fast as I can,” says Lindsey. “I got prominent really quick.”
Within a year Lindsey became the Director of Compassionate Idaho as well as the Chair of the Steering Committee of Compassionate Idaho Americans for Safe Access (ASA). She is a member of Mom’s for Marijuana. Her husband, Josh, is the Executive Director of Idaho NORML and Vice Chair for Idaho ASA.
Sarah Caldwell is a co-founder and Finance Manager of Compassionate Idaho and the Treasurer for Compassionate Idaho ASA. Caldwell and the Rineharts organize activist events around the state and have become quite well known.
In as little as four months of Lindsey becoming a vocal cannabis advocate, she was leading the drive for signatures to get medical marijuana on the ballot in Idaho, where 75% of the electorate is in favor of medical marijuana. Roughly 50,000 signatures are needed for the measure to qualify for the ballot. Rinehart has spearheaded fundraising efforts ($1/signature is the funding requirement for paid signature gatherers). An estimated $50,000 is necessary to get the measure on the ballot where it will likely pass.
“It was really exciting, getting to meet the gals from Mom’s For Marijuana; Serra Frank, Theresa Knox and Sarah Caldwell,” she says “They taught me to quit lying to my kids, first off.”
Rinehart spent months hiding her activism from her children. Now she keeps an open and honest dialogue with them about drugs.
“I know he didn’t take marijuana to school, period,” she says “First he didn’t have access to it, but he knows that is my medicine and it makes me feel better. I talk about it with them a lot. [Laustin] is really mad I cannot have it right now because he sees the physical difference. He understands that is a medicine I need. He watched me come off thirteen different pills and go down to four. He watched me laying on the couch unable to move to being up off the couch, active, and with him. He watched me go from not wanting him to touch me because my skin was on fire to being able to hug him again. He is really mad because they took him away, they accused him of something he didn’t do and they accused him of taking it to school. He thought this was his fault.” Both children are now in therapy and have been diagnosed with PTSD.
IDAHO’S CONFLICTING INTERESTS
Idaho is bordered to the west by Oregon and Washington (medical and recreationally legal states respectively), British Columbia to the north, which has fairly liberal marijuana policy and Montana to the east, which approved medical marijuana by voter initiative in 2004, although it has since repealed it by legislative actions.
Although the people of Idaho are largely in favor of medical marijuana, the financial interests of the state are completely at odds with its electorate.
The state of Idaho has a $29 million annual contract with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison corporation– this in a state with just 1.5 million residents, one of the least populous states in the nation. In addition, Idaho is one of only a small handful of states not required to report individual drug seizure incidents, only a final total expressed in dollars annually.
According to the Institute for Justice, law enforcement brought in $194,288 in civil asset seizures in 1993. In 2003 the number increased to $2,209,870, which adjusted for inflation represents an 893% increase in just ten years with no signs of decrease. If medical marijuana were to be legalized in Idaho, this sharp growth rate would undoubtedly slow.
Under the federal Equitable Sharing program, instituted through the Comprehensive Crime Control Act in 1984 and signed into law by President Reagan, local law enforcement in any state can seize personal property under the guise of enforcing federal drug laws, the property is auctioned off and 20% of the proceeds are sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the local agency that brought in the money keeps the balance to use as they see fit.
“In 1984, Congress decided to allow the DOJ to distribute forfeiture dollars to state and local law enforcement partners,” says Eapen Thampy, Executive Director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, “This arrangement conveniently sidesteps the ability of states and citizens to control the enforcement priorities of their law enforcement agencies. This federalization of police power has been a key factor in the ability of drug warriors to enforce prohibition in the face of local political opposition.”
“Growing up in Nampa [Idaho], I never actually used marijuana until age 22,” Says Russ Belleville, a well-known news blogger, commentator and podcast host in the marijuana legalization movement. “I never actually used marijuana until age 22. But from that point on I remember always visiting friends whose curtains were constantly drawn. I remember paying too much for substandard marijuana, always hoping my “guy” had something, anything.”
He further describes the situation in Idaho “One year our county sherriff proposed requiring landlords in the county to require drug tests. He’s also a guy who ran drug dogs around the shopping mall parking lots, then waited off the premises to pull over anyone whom the dogs alerted on.”
“There are a lot of people who are really mad at our state for doing this to me,” says Rinehart “There is a strong Libertarian streak here. A lot of people here say ‘that is her body, her illness, leave her alone.’ The more of us who stand up and speak out, the better.”
“People tell me to leave Idaho all the time,” she says “Why should I have to leave my home because I have a condition that can be treated by cannabis? I grew up here my whole life; I have lived here since I was three. I love Idaho, I love it here. I love that my downtown is covered in trees and it isn’t a concrete jungle. It is a clean state, a beautiful state. It is a great place to live.”
“People take care of each other here. We are compassionate people. Idaho is a place where you can be pretty safe. You would want to raise your children here. It’s a good place to raise kids with good schools,” she concludes.
TRYING TO MOVE FORWARD
Lindsey Rinehart is convinced the removal of her children is a retaliatory effort in response to her activism. “They used my kid to worm their way in, they were trying to scare me and they got the wrong response.”
Rinehart has refused to back down on her activism, although she has chosen to suffer the painful symptoms of her MS in order to keep her children, “They wanted to shut me up really bad. They should know by now I am not going to shut up. They already did the worst they can do to me– they took my children. I kept thinking the whole time; if you are going to take someone why not take me? Leave my kids alone. Why not take me? Why? They didn’t do anything to deserve this,” she says, choking back tears again.
“I had to convince my kid over and over this wasn’t his fault. He carries a lot of guilt and he did nothing wrong,” she says defiantely.
Today Lindsey and Josh Rinehart live in legal limbo. The CPS case has been closed but the Boise Police Department has yet to press charges, she believes they are building a criminal case for possession and child endangerment against her. She checks the Ada County site every five hours when it is updated looking for a warrant. She lives in a constant state of paranoia the police will come re arrest her, in front of her children and they will again be dragged into the battle of the political opposition of medical marijuana. She is terrified they have already had so much interaction with police at their age.
The Rineharts have been sent a notice to pay child support for the time their children lived in foster care. They have been placed on the Idaho Central Registry as child abusers for ten years. They are currently fighting this designation, as it would be significantly disruptive to their personal and professional lives.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
The Rineharts need money to continue to fight charges against them and keep their lawyer on retainer. In addition, they are fighting to be removed from the child endangerment registry. Follow “The Idaho Three” on Facebook to learn what you can do to help.