Court-Ordered To Suffer: Michigan Epilepsy Patient Denied Medicine By Courts, Child Removed From Care

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Photos courtesy of Steve and Maria Green

UPDATE: As of mid-afternoon on Thursday, October 3rd, 2013, the criminal charges filed against Steve and Maria Green in Oakland County (related to their legal medical marijuana growing operation) have been dropped. There has been no official statement as to whether or not this will affect the Ingham County DHS’s decision to remove their daughter from their home.

Steve Green’s story is the kind of American tale that should have people marching in the streets. He is a medical marijuana patient here in Michigan, and he is facing criminal prosecution (and possibly many years in prison) over his medical marijuana use. His wife, who is also his caregiver, is facing charges as well.

Steve began experiencing grand mal (also known as tonic-clonic) seizures in 2006. This type of seizure affects the entire brain, and can last several minutes. After trying for years to use pharmaceuticals to treat his condition, Steve was finally able to control his seizures after his doctor recommended medical marijuana.

Now, as a condition of Steve’s bond during his prosecution for medical marijuana, he has been court-ordered to stop the only treatment that has ever stopped his dangerous, brain-damaging, life-threatening seizures.

Learn how you can help the Green's infant daughter, Bree. #FreeBree

A social media campaign has been launched to help bring the Green’s infant daughter, Brielle, out of protective custody. #FreeBree

Before I met Steve or his lovely wife, Maria, I met their tiny, precious 6-month-old daughter, Bree. My 14-month-old immediately fell in love with the little girl at a recent medical marijuana conference.

I, in turn, quickly fell into talking with her parents, Maria and Steve. Their legal battles (both with the police/courts and Child Protective Services) expose the corruption and rot within both the American penal/judicial system and the need for complete cannabis legalization to protect medical marijuana patients.

They are both well-known activists in the state, Maria is the head of the local branch of The Human Solution, a cannabis organization whose slogan is “No one should go to jail for a plant.” Sadly, both Maria and Steve are facing jail time for exactly that. What’s worse is they should both be protected from prosecution by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, but the courts seem to be intentionally ignoring this fact.

Born healthy, Steve went his entire youth without a seizure. Then, in 2006, his life changed. Steve told me all about his first seizure in 2006, about the terrifying life of someone diagnosed with epilepsy. He explained how the seizures quickly started becoming more and more frequent, until he was having over a hundred a year. That’s about two seizures a week, every week.

He showed me the scars all over his body from having seizures at dangerous times, despite taking between 8-12 pills at any given point in his treatment. He had a seizure while at an ATM. He had a seizure while walking down stairs. He had a seizure while working under a car. He has a collection of scars and injuries to match.

He isn’t allowed to drive because of his condition, and it has basically ended his ability to work a full-time job. Many employers view his condition as too serious of a liability, especially if he would be working on vehicles. Steve’s daily life revolved around medications and treating his epilepsy.

At its worst, Steve’s epilepsy had him taking a 16-pill cocktail every day. His doctor was regularly testing his blood to monitor his liver function. Finally, in 2010, the family doctor recommended medical marijuana as a possibility. He had exhausted all other treatment options, and Steve’s liver tests were just barely above a dangerous cut-off point. Cannabis had recently been receiving some press as a possible alternative to seizure medications. Steve was willing to try just about anything at that point.

Cannabis, in smoked form, helped immediately. It helped him return to normal after a seizure. It even helped him lower his blood pressure. Maria was Steve’s caregiver, and she began learning about medibles and tinctures. These higher-potency options decreased the frequency of seizures, and they became noticeably less violent, especially once the treatment regimen progressed to Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and concentrates.

In 2011, they began working with strains known to be high in CBD (cannabidiol). There is a tragic dearth of medical testing regarding CBD, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is incredibly effective at preventing seizures. They also began controlling the dosage and strains Steve was using. Eventually, Steve found the perfect balance to be a gram of CBD concentrate in the morning and a gram of THC concentrate in the evening (with both standardized at 75% potency, that equates to 750mg of each).

Following this regimen, Steve remained seizure-free from December 2, 2011 through the end of June, 2013, when the judge ordered Steve to stop taking cannabis, despite his medical necessity.

If a judge is ordering a man with epilepsy to stop his medication, surely he must be accused of a serious crime, right? What, exactly, is Steve Green facing charges for at this time?

For growing the medicine that returned his life to normal.

When the couple fell in love, Maria was staying in Oakland County, Michigan in a trailer she owned. During the transition into living together, she continued growing Steve’s medical marijuana at that location. They intended to move the grow to their shared residence in Lansing, but never got the chance.

One of Maria’s neighbors was also a medical marijuana patient, and his place was robbed as the result of a personal relationship gone south. While cops searched the area for the thief, they noticed a smell coming from Maria’s property. They searched the home and seized 29 young plants, ignoring the display of documentation indicating Maria was a legal caregiver, registered with the state.They left a card.

Maria called them the next day and from there an attorney was called to speak with law enforcement. Maria and Steve were both under the impression that no charges were being brought, as they were a state-registered caregiver and patient, respectively.

The Green Family

The Green Family

On January 5th, 2013, Steve was arrested. He was the passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over. Because he was carrying twelve ounces of medical marijuana, he provided identification to the police. They agreed that his cannabis was compliant, but discovered he had an outstanding warrant in Oakland County. They drove him there, and he spent the night in jail.

When he was arraigned, the judge, the Honorable Judge Melinda J. Balin ordered drug testing as a condition of Steve’s bond. The detective involved twice asked Judge Balin to set a high personal bond, but she acted reasonably. She rebuked the detective, noting “What does a high personal bond do? It doesn’t do anything.” This was after Steve Green advised the court he was unemployed due to his epilepsy.

What good would the high personal bond have done, other than punish the as-of-yet-still-innocent-until-proven-guilty Steve Green and his family?

Sadly, although Judge Balin was reasonable, she still called for drug testing while Steve awaited trial.

“You’re going to have to do some kind of random drug testing with this charge, but obviously with that you’re going to present JAMS [a for-profit drug testing company used by some Michigan counties] with your medical marijuana card, and they’re going to see if you have, if you’re telling the truth, the right to use marijuana with your medical marijuana card.”

Of course Steve continued taking his medication. Nothing else has ever worked. He presented his card at the testing site, and they reported him as non-compliant to the state. He has already had seven seizures since the end of June.

Maria and Steve Green at a recent press conference, pleading with the public for help in getting their 6-month-old daughter, Bree, back in their custody.

Maria and Steve Green at a recent press conference, pleading with the public for help in getting their 6-month-old daughter, Bree, back in their custody.

His attorneys, after burning through their retainers, have abandoned the case because Steve wants to fight for his right to use the only effective medication available to him.

The judge hearing his case, Judge Leo Bowman, has a history of inappropriate and harsh behavior. He has been reprimanded twice by the Michigan State Court Administrative Office. Both cases involved Bowman’s unchecked anger and a jury pool member who was hoping to not sit through a trial. One potential juror, a mother of two young children, was ordered to sit through a murder trial as punishment for arriving late with her children to jury selection after a family issue left her without childcare.

The other, a third year medical student at University of Michigan, asked to be excused because he was frantically studying for a career-deciding medical licensing exam and wasn’t sure he could focus enough to make a good decision. Judge Bowman ordered the student to sit in on the trial and then write a five-page, single-spaced essay on topics including why citizens must be present for jury duty.

In court on June 12th, he refused to allow Steve Green’s attorney to assert a medical cannabis affirmative defense and immunity from prosecution (especially regarding the ongoing use of medical marijuana during trial), going so far as to lecture the defense attorney, who believed he has established basic medical necessity for his client.

“Now, here’s what’s occurred up until this point. I haven’t the transcripts, I haven’t the record, but this is the traditional procedure in criminal cases. There is an investigation by some police agency. Pursuant to that investigation they get information and they believe in their view that a crime was committed, but they don’t determine conclusively that it is. ..They then have to go to the prosecuting attorney, who reviews any information provided by the police agency to determine if in the prosecutor’s view that, in fact, some Michigan statute, criminal statute has been violated. And then if the prosecutor believes such, they authorize a warrant. You appreciate that…The prosecutor has to submit that warrant to a magistrate or a judge who reviews it and makes a determination of whether or not it’s probable that a crime was committed and the person identified committed it. And if so, the judge signs the warrant and authorizes the arrest of the defendant and that the charges may go forth. That still isn’t the end of the day.”

The judge continued on to explain, that in his position, he can order the defendant to cease taking any controlled substance, regardless of a physician’s recommendation. In fact, he also dismisses a motion for reconsideration regarding Steve Green’s medical need for cannabis out of hand, saying no material error in judgment was made.

Essentially, the court refuses to hear the medical marijuana defense or consider that the ruling forbidding medical marijuana could have a permanent, negative impact on a man accused of growing that same medicine. Because Steve has a minor criminal record (a juvenile charge and a charge from over five years ago related to his dependence on pharmaceutical drugs), he could be facing very harsh sentencing, if convicted.

Both he and Maria, his wife and caregiver, assert that all twenty-nine of the plants found in Maria’s home were necessary to ensure a steady supply of medication for Steve. Remembering that he would be consuming two grams of high-potency concentrate daily, this requires far more plant material than twelve plants can reliably produce.

Purchasing concentrates on the untested, unregulated, gray market is not an option when someone needs a standardized dose. Even if a pure, trustworthy product was available, given Steve’s medical condition and inability to work a traditional job, the expense of the medication would be out of their reach. His only option is to grow his own.

Juries in other states have previously found that people with extreme conditions, not unlike Steve’s debilitating epilepsy, may require far larger than “average” or “allowed” amounts of medication to keep their symptoms under control. However, Michigan courts have been openly hostile to the voter-approved Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. Judge Bowman may well deny Steve Green the right to even tell the jury about his epilepsy. Despite the fact that Judge Bowman has openly indicated a bias in court, he remains the judge assigned to the trial.

Steve is scrambling to raise funds, but any decent attorney will likely charge around $30,000 for this case. For some reason, although most non-violent (and violent) offenders are offered plea deals to lesser charges to avoid court, Steve has not been offered a plea. For now, he remains with his family, awaiting his next court date, in early October.

His case is yet another reminder of why complete legalization of cannabis is necessary. All too often, law enforcement and courts feel they can simply ignore someone’s right to medical marijuana, to a medical marijuana defense, or to humane treatment.