Pot Heals in Colorado, Kills in Texas. Why?

Two-year-old Alexandria Hill is the latest victim in the War on Drugs, and it's our national perception of marijuana users that has failed her.

In Colorado this week, parents Matt and Paige Figi are finding relief in cannabis for the perpetual seizures their daughter, Charlotte, 6, has been suffering since she was three months old. Charlie, as the young girl is affectionately known, has Dravet Syndrome, a severe and intractable form of epilepsy known to respond to treatment from high-cannabidiol, or CBD, strains of medical marijuana. The Figi’s now are dealing with two or three seizures a month, compared to 300 a week pre-cannabis.

About 1,000 miles away in Milam County, Tex., though, fellow parents the Hills are finding nothing but heartbreak in the plant that’s saving Charlie Figi’s life. Their daughter, 2-year-old Alexandria Hill, was removed from the couple’s home following the revelation in January that they both smoked pot after putting their kid to bed on at least a semi-regular basis. Two foster home moves later, and Alex is dead at the hands of caregiver Sherrill Small, who has admitted to throwing the child to the ground, causing brain hemorrhaging and retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes.

This is the cognitive dissonance inherent in the national marijuana debate: At once it is both a valuable medication — capable alone of successfully alleviating a host of hard-to-treat medical issues — and a dangerous, debilitating street drug that removes any semblance of responsibility, logic or conscience in its users, making them wild-eyed criminals unfit for American life while in the grips of the green menace. The latter view, which Texas follows fairly closely judging by the 74,000 people they jailed in 2010 for simple possession, seems to be the central issue at play here.

But were the Hills good parents to their daughter? The case isn’t yet fully clear, with some reports stating that Mother Hill couldn’t be left alone with her child due to a “medical condition,” and Alexandria had been living with her grandparents when Child Protective Services took her into custody. This instance, in short, was not the first time the Hills got attention from CPS, and, yes, it is entirely possible that they were not the most responsible of parents. Marijuana, however, does seem to have been the last straw, regardless of how the couple had interacted with CPS in the past.

Frankly, though, if you’re going to smoke pot as a parent to a toddler, toking up once you’ve put your parental responsibilities down for the night — as the Hills claim to have done — is just about the most responsible way to do it. That type of behavior is far from on par with Trainspotting-esque visions of lighting/shooting up with a baby playing quietly on the couch in a dingy living room, which appears to be the behavior Texas CPS associate with the Hills’ pot habit. After all, it doesn’t get much easier than exercising your state-sanctioned power over someone painted as a social miscreant.

In that sense, the Hills’ case is wholly representative of the discrimination marijuana users face every day, albeit with much more drastic consequences. Despite legalization in two states and medical systems in 20 other states, pot smokers are still second-class citizens seen as unable to participate in the social rights of passage (i.e. parenting) to which the rest of us are privy (if they’re caught, that is). It’s as if the definition of what marijuana is capable of changes depending upon the state boundaries you find yourself within. The answer to what it is about smoking marijuana that makes you inherently unable to care for a child, however, has not yet been found.

Marijuana, after all, is a much safer drug than, say, alcohol, and children are not regularly removed from their parents’ homes due to their caregivers’ responsible consumption of that drug. My parents regularly made no effort to hide their alcohol drinking at home or parties when I was a child, and, thankfully, not once did they have to deal with Child Protective Services. And we’re talking about a drug here that is responsible for swaths of fatalities, addiction and crime to a much larger degree than the cannabis plant. Yet, a tangible comparison between the two, however logical, doesn’t seem to change the perception that state agencies like CPS have regarding pot.

Had the Figis been residents of Texas rather than Colorado, they’d be seen as irresponsible drug pushers rather than the intelligent, tenacious caregivers that they are. A life in Colorado for the Hills, on the other hand, probably would have allowed them to have their daughter and smoke pot, too. Parent or not, it’s easy to see that our marijuana laws have farther-reaching implications beyond who goes to jail and who doesn’t. Our inability to see that, along with our perception of marijuana users at a national level, has failed Alexandria Hill, and in the worst possible way. As a result, the War on Drugs adds in another statistic, and the Hills get to figure out where to go from here.

Given all the pain and drama they’ve suffered this week, we’d be wise to do the same.