Prosecutors Can’t Go After Family Treating Child’s Seizures With Marijuana Extract, Judge Rules

Zander Welton CREDIT: ACLU
Zander Welton CREDIT: ACLU

Five-year-old Zander Welton was able for the first time to hold a fork on his own and sleep through the night last year, after his doctor treated his seizures with a medical marijuana extract. But after several county attorneys in Zander’s state of Arizona threatened felony prosecution for using the marijuana in extract form, Zander’s parents stopped giving him the treatment.

An Arizona court ruled Friday that Zander’s parents could start treating him again, finding that Arizona’s medical marijuana law allows consumption of the plant in extract form.


Zander’s parents turned to medical marijuana after pharmaceuticals and even two brain surgeries failed to heal Zander. Like many children with debilitating seizures, Zander was unable to perform even simple tasks like speaking and running. After taking the marijuana extract, Zander’s parents say in their lawsuit that he made “striking developmental progress.” But the treatment works best for young children when in extract form. Heating it — when smoked or infused in a tea — releases the plant’s psychoactive properties, which is precisely what his parents are trying to avoid. And simply crushing up the dried leaves and putting it in his food has proven difficult to ingest and imprecise.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery had argued that the 2010 medical marijuana law passed by ballot initiative prohibits “concentrating the chemicals in the marijuana flower” and had threatened to prosecute those like the Weltons who use the extract. But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper concluded not only that the statute contains no such prohibition, but that “[c]onstraining patients’ medical marijuana options contradicts the stated purpose of the AMMA [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] — to ‘protect patients with debilitating medical conditions . . . from arrest and prosecution, criminal and other penalties and property forfeiture if such patients engage in the medical use of marijuana.’ ” The ruling is what is known as a “declaratory judgment,” meaning it clarifies the law, rather than rules on a particular prosecution.

The Weltons were one of a number of families who learned about the potential of medical marijuana to treat children’s seizures after watching a CNN special on six-year-old Charlotte Figi, whose seizures stopped after treatment with a strain of marijuana now dubbed “Charlotte’s Web.” Now, more than 100 other families have relocated to Colorado from 43 states to treat their children for seizures. The documentary was produced by CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, who reversed his position on medical marijuana, saying, “we have been terribly, and systematically misled.”

Also on Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a bill into law to give families access to the marijuana extract for treating epilepsy.