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Renee Petro has already been living a parent’s worst nightmare for years: her 12-year-old son Branden suffers from a rare form of pediatric epilepsy called FIRES, which causes uncontrolled seizures that can be fatal. On Tuesday, a new nightmare began for the family, when Florida Child Protective Services showed up at their home to investigate an anonymous tip that Renee was not administering Branden’s prescription anti-seizure medication and was instead treating him with Cannabis extract.
“I’ve never used Cannabis medicine for Branden,” says Renee. “I know fully well that Cannabis would help him, but because I live in an “illegal” state we have never tried it. I have not broken any laws.”
What Renee has done, however, is advocate loudly for reform both in Florida and across the country, organizing parent’s rallies and speaking to the media, calling for broad-based medical cannabis legislation that could help her son as well as many others. Ladybud has reported on Renee’s activism numerous times.
“I feel like our family was targeted,” says Renee, “just because I’m doing what our beautiful country is built on: Freedom of Speech. I’m just trying to change and better the world that we live in.”
When the CPS investigator arrived at the family’s residence, Renee was picking up her 9-year-old daughter Rachel from school and Branden was at home with his visiting nurse. The nurse frantically called Renee to tell her that an investigator was at the door and Renee rushed home, fearing the worst.
When Renee arrived, the CPS investigator explained that she would have to question the children in a separate room so that Renee could not influence their answers. The investigator isolated a terrified Rachel from Renee and asked the child, “Does your mother give your brother illegal drugs?” Renee says the investigator also asked Rachel other questions that did not directly pertain to Branden’s medical treatment. “She asked Rachel if I was “nice” and if she felt safe – these questions were totally not what the tip was about – they were asking more about if I’m some bad person or bad mother. They were making me out to be a monster.”
The investigator also tried to interview Branden, but he was in a “post-ictal” state recovering from a seizure and was non-responsive. As Branden slept in his bed, the investigator asked Renee to move his head and position him so he could be photographed as evidence.
“I feel like our family was violated, like we were raped,” says Renee. “My daughter was terrified. She was afraid she was going to be taken away from our family.”
Renee says that the investigator also inventoried and photographed all of Branden’s prescription medications. Terrified of losing her children and wishing to cooperate fully, Renee also shared Branden’s latest labwork, which shows the levels of the prescription drugs in his blood – levels which Renee says prove that all Branden’s pharmaceutical medications have been administered as prescribed.
“I cooperated like I was an open book,” says Renee. “I’ve been doing it by the book all along because I don’t want to commit a crime. I don’t want to lose my children. All I want to do is change laws to get the chance to save my son’s life.”
Renee quickly shared the story with local news media, believing the public would rally around her family as as it has in the past when stories about her activism and advocacy work have been covered by local television stations. The reporting about this incident as well as the public response has been overwhelmingly positive, says Renee.
“The medical cannabis community has been incredibly supportive,” Renee explains. “And even people who have no idea about medical marijuana have extended their support and said what is happening is cruel. They say, ‘We’ve seen the news stories and we don’t know too much about (medical marijuana) but we see that you love your son.’ “
Although the CPS investigation has left Renee feeling vulnerable and afraid, it has also strengthened her commitment to advocate for medical cannabis.
“I’m not backing down,” says Renee. “In fact, this is making the tiger roar even louder and I’m going to continue fighting (for medical cannabis laws to change). I am an activist to help him heal.”
Renee fears that the investigation is not over, however, and she is preparing to weather more questioning and scrutiny.
“As a strong and determined but absolutely terrified parent right now, I’m reaching out for people to help me,” says Renee. “We are going to need help legally, and I’m rallying people to support our family in this fight because I know that we’re going to need it.”