‘Marijuana refugees’ stuck in Colorado while children receive treatment

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DENVER -- Any parent would do whatever it takes to make a sick child feel better.  But would you uproot your entire life, pack up the kids, and move across the country?

A growing number of families are doing just that.  Relocating to Colorado.  Some call them “marijuana refugees.”

People like Ornella Pisciuneri.  She left her husband and two of her children back home in New Jersey, and moved to Colorado Springs a month ago, seeking treatment for her son Alex, 20, who suffers from Lefora Body Disease, an incurable and often deadly form of epilepsy.

They tried every medication possible, and nothing worked.  But then Ornella saw a story about Charlotte Figi, a six-year-old Colorado girl with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that caused her hundreds of violent seizures every week.

Charlotte started taking a special strain of cannabis oil, or medical marijuana, and now she’s down to two or three seizures a week.

That's when Ornella made up her mind.  She had to move to Colorado and try the same treatment for her son.

“I said whatever little money we have put aside, I don't care, if I can find him a little relief, then I don't care about anything, anything,” Ornella told FOX 31 Denver.

The Pisciuneri’s are part of a wave of so-called medical marijuana refugees here in Colorado.  People who've moved their children here from states where it's illegal or severely restricted.

“We're doing things here that aren't happening anywhere on the globe,” said Dr. Margaret Gedde, who runs a medical marijuana practice in Colorado Springs, where she treats a number of young patients with Cannabis oil.  She sees as many as five new young patients a week from out of state.

“So many of them are so damaged, they're developmentally delayed, they have very little quality of life.  So it opens a whole new way of living and they're just thrilled,” said Gedde.

Among her patients, the Rollins family.  They moved here from southern Indiana with their daughter Emily, 4, back in March.

“She would have over a 100 seizures a day.   She was on four medications alone just for the seizures,” said Erica Rollins.

But the day after she started on medical marijuana, Emily was down to just six seizures.

“I think we just stared at each other for hours, like did this really just happen?” Erica said.

The Rollins are religious people, and had been opposed to all forms of marijuana, until they saw how it helped their daughter.

“The abuse and the negligence and the stigma shouldn't reflect people's opinions.  It shouldn’t be the only thing they look at when they can see the good right here,” Joe Rollins said, pointing to his daughter.

“We only saw ‘Cheech and Chong’ and Willie Nelson as the face of medical marijuana, and now the face of cannabis isn't that any longer, it's sick kids who deserve a chance,” said Erica.

Because it's illegal in so many states - families like the Rollins are stuck in Colorado indefinitely, away from family and friends back home, while the children receive treatment.  If they crossed state lines with Emily’s marijuana oil, they’d be breaking the law.

Alex Pisciuneri and his mom don't know how long they'll be here.  He hasn't even started the marijuana treatment yet.  He's still on the waiting list.  His mom hopes to get his first dosage of cannabis oil sometime next week.  And she doesn't even know if it'll work.  But it's worth a shot.

“He's my first born, are you kidding?  I would go … I don't know where … and back, because this shouldn't have happened,” Ornella said.

Alex isn't the only one waiting to start medical marijuana treatment.  Right now some 200 kids are on a waiting list for that special cannabis oil extract, and the number of children in our state with medical marijuana red cards has tripled since March, with so many families moving to our state.

To learn more about the Colorado non-profit organization helping young people receive cannabis oil for their medical problems, click here: http://realmofcaringfoundation.org/



  • corey

    wow it takes your kid about to die for you to open your eyes and become a decent person, maybe read a little info, instead of letting other peoples lives get ruined? makes me wish more people would have terrible health problems.

  • Amy Black

    That is an awful thing to say. Emily Rollins is my niece. I wouldn’t wish an unhealthy child on anyone. You have no idea what these families are going through. Shame on you.

  • Kevin Hunt

    “We only saw ‘Cheech and Chong’ and Willie Nelson as the face of medical marijuana”?

    Last June, the famous comedian, actor and pro-marijuana legalization advocate, Tommy Chong, reported to the world that he had been diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer and that he was seeking unconventional treatment using Cannabis Oil. Almost one year later, Tommy is feeling better than ever and is cancer free.

  • Scott

    It may not work for everything, but it sure as hell works for alot of things and is much, much, safer than RX drugs. Chemicals kill! Yet to hear about a thc overdose. Or cbd’s. Seriously what is the big deal? Its been used since the egyption medicine and ancient asiatic peoples for everything from menstrual issues to internal organ damage, pain management, anxiety, a myriad of sickness and disease. But because one man and his self rightousness and serious lack of knowledge this plant has been demonized and forever tainted in the eyes of the uninformed or wrongly informed. When this plant could have saved countless people from suffering and or death. Wake up america! I’M a proponent and believer. And i don’t partake. But i refuse to stand in the way of progress and something that helps others!

  • Josh C.

    Corey I understand what you said. Simply, it took a personal tragedy for these people to stop drinking the kool-aide and start using the medicine God provided.

  • ColoRN

    …their plight is noted and appreciated……. but, shouldn’t there have been a plan BEFORE uprooting a family and just moving part way accross country?? C’mon, there should have been a plan, not just a knee jerk response.
    IF YOU GO to the MAYO clinic, Cleveland Clinic, John Hopkin’s OR anywhere YOU PLAN where you are staying and take into account approximately how long it will be.

  • Suzanne

    The sad thing about this is that when your family gets the “Diagnosis” you have doctors telling you about 2 drugs, Specifically when it comes to infantile spasms. You as a new parent to this see it as 2 options to help your child, When those fail the doctors add more medication. Not every family can travel out of state to go to these special clinics believe me we have tried. But do to insurance, We could not. When you have doctors that tell you there is nothing more that they can do for you child, You keep searching for an answer! I am so happy that the state of Colorado is helping so many Children dealing with serious health issues!

    And I have never understood how any person can comment and say such hateful things about people sometimes?!?! I truly hope that you never have to deal with issues like this…

  • Richard Pmoore

    So many other disorders cannabis can ease also. why does the Government supply it for a few people in the US but not others. why do you need to prove you have a reason to use something God put here, Who is man to say what ease’s your pain or if you just want to forget about live for a while, the most dangerous, destructive & damaging things on this planet man created. Most of our health problems for our children are caused by what man has put in our water or our food & what the Government sprays in the air for their own gain of trying to control or change the weather,genetically modified foods.The list goes on..I weep for our planet our meaning every living thing on earth,Because it is being destroyed by greed. God Bless the children & the sick.

  • Angie Valdez

    Thank you for this story. Anything to help these children should be looked at. I am a part of the cannabis community and have seen so many patients being helped. We are a loving,peaceful,questioning community. We are always looking for new ways to help one and other,unlike some of the medical professionals these days.

  • Regina Nelson, CPN

    The problem here is not just that it’s parents and children “refugees” (and most should not be on a waiting list–many reputable cannabis providers have good CBD oil options)…it’s that there are refugees of all ages–and all are ill! Many have few funds and end up on the streets or in run-down motels. Cannabis providers are gearing up for a rush of recreational buyers on 1/1–the reality is most will be sick people from other states or their family members begging for the right medicine–and IF they can find it, they’ll pay a very high premium plus taxes to acquire a very small amount.

    The central argument to this whole ‘debate’ that our policy and public leaders are ignoring is that we ALL have an Endocannabinoid System, we ALL have a stake in learning more about cannabis as medicine!

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