Alexis Bortell - A 12-Year-Old Girl Who Could Help End Weed Prohibition In The United States Of America
Alexis Bortell, a twelve-year-old girl, uses a cannabis oil called “Haleigh’s Hope” to prevent her life-threatening seizures. Alexis Bortell has been diagnosed with epilepsy, and has been orally ingesting cannabis oil twice a day and keeps a THC spray by her side in case she experience an aura, or pre-seizure event.
Doctors in Texas left Alexis and her family with no other option aside from an experimental lobotomy to treat her epilepsy. Her parents were inspired to move to Colorado to seek medical assistance and now these auras occur once every 3-4 weeks – significantly less than when she lived in Texas.
“I’m now over two years seizure-free because of my cannabis medicine. In Texas, our goal was three days, [and] that’s the max I ever got,” says Bortell.
“It’s helped me succeed in school more, since I don’t have to go to the nurse every day because of the auras and seizures. There was no medicine in Texas that would stop my seizures, and not only that, but they had horrendous side effects that would be worse than the actual serizure.”
Bortell is a very wise and articulate girl who has received an invitation from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) to lobby her representative in Washington D.C this past September.
Alexis cannot go anywhere without her cannabis medicin, so she couldn’t travel without committing a federal offence of smuggling Schedule I narcotics across state lines. Even if she could have travelled to D.C -where cannabis is medically and recreationally permitted, she cannot bring her medicine onto federal property, including the Capitol, national parks, monuments and military bases.
Currently Bortell is one of 5 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the federal government where her attorneys argue that the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which classifies cannabis as an illegal substance, infringes upon various constitutional rights.
“This is not just a case about the CSA. This is a civil rights case that focuses on the rights of individuals using life-saving medication to preserve their lives and health,” says Bortell’s attorney, Michael Hiller.
“It’s not just about cannabis, its about people’s ability to exercise their rights to free speech, to petition the government for a redress of grievances under the First Amendment, the right to travel, the fundamental right to be left alone and the right against Congressional overreach.”
Michael Hiller, Lauren Rudick, Joseph Bondy, and David Holland, who are all members of the New York Cannabis Bar Association- issued a complaint in September to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Defendants- Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice, Chuck Rosenberg, acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA and finally the United States of America – will file a motion to dismiss on October 13. If the motion passes, the plaintiffs will file an appeal to the Second Circuit.
This case could have ramifications throughout the United States of America. “If the court were to grant our relief, requesting a declaration that the CSA is unconstitutional as applied and enjoining the federal government from enforcing it, the case really has the potential to impact tens of millions of people,” stated by Hiller.
Alexis Bortell is representing the thousands of children facing epilepsy who wish to benefit from descheduling cannabis. Other plaintiffs taking the stand with Bortell are six year old Jagger Cotte who is a medical marijuana patient suffering from Leigh’s Disease which disables and kills 95 percent of its victims; Marvin Washing, a former pro football player who has developed a line of CBD based product, and Jose Belen, a disable veteran of two tours in Iraq and suffering from PTSD.
Attorneys are battling that the CSA infringes on the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and also that the foundation of marijuana’s place under the CSA is questionable. In their complaint, the attorneys allude to the past 10,000 years of history, and specifying the variety of ways that mankind has used Cannabis as a medicinal treatment. They even stated how the founding fathers wrote the constitution on hemp paper and how pharmacists sold cannabis infused tinctures over the counter.
“What is deeply troubling about all of this is that the CSA makes absolutely no sense,” says Hiller. “We know for a fact that the U.S. government knows that cannabis cannot be legally classified as a Schedule I drug, the requirements for which are a high potential for abuse, no medical efficacy whatsoever, and a substance so dangerous that it can’t be tested even under strict medical supervision. And we know cannabis doesn’t meet those requirements.”
Hiller pointed out that there is a definitive disconnect with what the government considers to be legal versus how they operate. There is a patent on cannabis for the treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, HIV-induced dementia and autoimmune disorders and that is owned by the government. And under the United States patent law, you annot apply for a patent unless you can demonstrate some form of the utility of whatever you’re seeking a patent for. “The government has obtained a patent for cannabis based on the fact that it works,” says Hiller. From 1978 onwards, the federal government has been sending cannabis to medical patients part of the Investigational New Drug program (IND), and they have found that cannabis helped treat the symptoms for these 15 participants without any serious side effects.
In 2014, the Department of Treasury issued a FinCEN guidance to banks which advised them regarding working with cannabis related businesses. 29 states and 3 territories allow some form of marijuana to be used which means that more than 60% of the population has access to cannabis. “It just makes no sense for the government to classify cannabis as a drug that’s so dangerous that it can’t even be safely tested, while at the same time encouraging companies to do business with cannabis businesses,” says Hiller. “It makes no sense for the Federal Government to have a medical patent and to distribute cannabis to patients for nearly 40 years through the IND Program, wile at the same time claiming that it has no medical efficacy and can cause brain damage. Ask the federal government, ‘Do you really believe it?’ and the fact of the matter is, they don’t.”
As with same-sex marriage, Hiller says, if the federal government had to defend cannabis prohibition on facts, they’d lose.
“This lawsuit represents the truth,” says Bondy, a criminal defense attorney who is an expert in federal cannabis law. “Marijuana has a recognized medical purpose. For the government to persist in the position that it doesn’t is foolish.”
Regardless of who wins the case, it’s a sure fire bet that the losing side will appeal, according to Bondy. “These issues are so important to the public interest, so important to consitituional safeguards that a full evidentiary record has to be made. We welcome this as an opportunity to demonstrate fully and fairly that we are right.”
Meanwhile, Alexis Bortell must choose between breaking the law and preserving her own life. “Every time I look around my classroom, I think about what my classmates will be when we grow up. But there’s nothing I can be because the government thinks I’m bad,” she says. “I know they’re wrong. I do hope we can win this case. If that happens, maybe I can be a doctor, or if I need to, run for legislature.”
Help Alexis Bortell and those like her who require medicinal cannabis to treat life threatening ailments