Pubdate: Wed, 30 May 2012
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht


One of California's more vociferous battles over marijuana was 
already simmering in the upper Central Valley when an audiotape of a 
howling, hysterical mother went viral.

"Oh, my God! My baby! My baby! My baby!" screamed Daisy Bram, 30, as 
Butte County child welfare officers took custody of her newborn 
infant and 18-month-old toddler during a Sept. 29 marijuana raid on 
her family's rural house outside Oroville.

On June 11, six days after Butte County voters decide a controversial 
ballot challenge to restrictions on marijuana growing, Bram faces a 
preliminary hearing on charges of felony child abuse and misdemeanor 
child endangerment.

Her defenders say Bram is essentially being prosecuted for 
breast-feeding while using medical marijuana. They say her case 
dramatizes what they contend are heavy-handed policies for medical 
marijuana use in Butte County, where supervisors put restrictions on 
growing medical pot, and police and an aggressive district attorney 
shuttered all local marijuana dispensaries.

"The general populace is in an uproar over this," said Robert Galia, 
a partner in a Chico-area dispensary that closed in 2011, a year 
after being raided by police. "This whole thing that she endangered 
her kids is just a farce."

Los Angeles lawyer Michael Feinsohn, who is representing Bram free of 
charge, said her case and the audio that's drawing audiences from 
Israel to Thailand "have really garnered support and made this a 
righteous cause."

Bram's case is being prosecuted as Butte County residents prepare to 
vote next week on a measure to ban medical marijuana cultivation on 
properties of one-half acre or less and limit the number of plants on 
larger parcels. Angry marijuana advocates gathered more than 12,000 
signatures to force a vote on the issue after supervisors approved 
the growing restrictions last year.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey makes no apologies for his contention 
that many people in the county are exploiting the cover of medical 
marijuana to illegally deal pot. Ramsey said his prosecution of Bram 
is consistent with his office's mission to protect drug-endangered 
children  in this case from a home strewn with marijuana buds being harvested.

"The officers are saying that this was a place that was obviously 
endangering the health of these children," Ramsey said. "A mother is 
obviously not protecting the children from this commercial 
(pot-growing) operation."

Bram and her husband, Jayme Walsh, were charged with felony marijuana 
possession and possession for sale after officers raided their 
38-plant garden and seized another 56 plants from inside their home, 
authorities said.

After a preliminary hearing last November, Butte Superior Court Judge 
Stephen J. Howell upheld the drug charges but threw out counts of 
felony child abuse against both parents.

Ramsey, who said the child endangerment charges were dismissed 
because some of his witnesses weren't available, refiled them against 
the mother.

Following the September raid, Bram's children were put in foster 
care. In her campaign to get them back, she posted an online photo of 
herself breast-feeding the children, toddler Thor and baby Zeus. At 
the time of the raid, the toddler was 18 months and the baby 28 days old.

In the police audiotape, obtained by her husband in court discovery, 
an officer speaks in an understated voice trying calm her. Bram 
shrieks: "They took my baby! How is he going to eat? ... He's a newborn!"

Bram said she got her children back four months later, after she gave 
up pot for the prescription drug Marinol, which uses synthetic 
ingredients to mimic the properties of marijuana.

She maintains she is being prosecuted for two reasons: She was using 
medical marijuana and breast-feeding her kids. Bram said she consumed 
pot to help with an injured hand and that her husband used it to 
relieve stress; they possessed the plants for personal use, she said, not sale.

"It defies logic if you think of a mother consuming cannabis and 
breast-feeding facing a child abuse charge," Bram said.

Ramsey said the case is about a dangerous drug environment, not 
breast-feeding. He said tests on hair samples from the toddler, Thor, 
revealed traces of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive 
element in pot. The baby had insufficient hair to test, he said.

Dr. Angela Rosas, chief of pediatrics at Sutter Memorial Hospital in 
Sacramento and a specialist in drug-endangered children, said it is 
common for marijuana to concentrate in breast milk.

She said mothers are urged not to use pot while nursing but that 
studies conflict on whether THC in breast milk is harmful. "We don't 
have any newborns coming in with marijuana intoxication," she said.

Rosas said she has, however, treated toddlers who were comatose after 
eating marijuana. She said they recovered in a day or two.

Josh Cook, a spokesman for the community group Butte Concerned 
Neighbors, said he had not heard of Bram's child-endangerment case. 
He was puzzled to learn of the saga as residents prepare to vote on 
Measure A to uphold or overturn local pot-growing limits.

"Some of my friends live in residential areas where neighbors are 
growing 50 plants in their backyards  it stinks so bad," Cook said. 
"I don't know about all the other dramas about medical marijuana ... 
How these issues become a freak show is beyond me."

Daniel Levine, spokesman for Citizens for Compassionate Use, which 
protests the growing restrictions and dispensary ban, said the local 
cannabis cause got an unlikely heroine in Daisy Bram and her wails 
over losing her children in a pot raid.

"It pulls the heartstrings," Levine said.
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