Child-abuse case has wide implications

Medical marijuana is at the center of Daisy Bram’s fight to keep her kids

Daisy Bram and husband Jayme Walsh with their children, Zeus and Thor.

Daisy Bram and husband Jayme Walsh with their children, Zeus and Thor.

Photo By Kyle delmar

The past year has been quite a whirlwind for Daisy Bram. The 31-year-old mother of two has had her home raided; she and her husband, Jayme Walsh, were arrested; and their children were ripped from her arms.

The couple celebrated a small victory earlier this month in their battle against Butte County’s Children’s Services Division, but their fight is far from over.

In a March 2012 cover story, the CN&R chronicled Bram and Walsh’s fight with CSD for custody of their children. That story explained how the couple’s trouble began with a raid on their medical-marijuana garden by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office in September 2011. It also showed that Bram’s case—and indeed other, non-medical-marijuana-related CSD cases—had attracted the attention of local cannabis and parental-rights activists as well as local and state media. Bram points to the prominent, persistent protests by her supporters and media attention by the CN&R, the Sacramento Bee and the San Jose Mercury News as contributing to her case being dropped by CSD.

“With all the attention and media that we drew every time we went to court—I think they kind of wanted off it,” said Bram, who was reunited with her children in February.

“On July 12, we had a status hearing [with CSD],” she continued. “They finally said, ‘We find there’s no reason to keep the kids away from their parents.'”

That day was a major milestone for Bram and Walsh. It marked the end of at least part of the nightmare they’ve lived through these past nine months. But the couple are acutely aware of the impact their story has had on others.

“I think in a way it’s a groundbreaking case, because there are a lot of people in the medical-marijuana community who have been put in the same position as Daisy,” said Bram’s L.A. attorney, Michael Levinsohn, by phone recently. “She succeeded where 99 percent of the lawyers around there [Butte County] don’t succeed. She got her kids back, and she’s allowed to use medical cannabis.”

One of the biggest issues to come out of Bram’s story is whether it is safe to consume cannabis while breastfeeding. CSD said it was not and even got a court order barring Bram from breastfeeding her infant and toddler until urine tests came back negative for THC.

“Lots of moms smoke pot and breastfeed. Maybe nobody will admit to it, but it’s a lot more common than people are aware of,” Bram said. “It’s really hard to get anyone to say it’s bad because there’s no science to back it up.”

She’s right. Internet searches for “breastfeeding” and “marijuana” provide little to no actual data—mostly message boards and sites that are either clearly pro- or anti-marijuana. In searching about breastfeeding, however, there is plenty of research that shows breastfeeding is significantly healthier for infants than formula. (During the five months Bram and Walsh’s boys, Zeus and Thor, were in foster care, they were breastfed infrequently, getting their nutrients through formula instead.)

The breastfeeding issue has wider implications for Bram, however. In February, the Butte County District Attorney’s Office refiled previously dropped charges of child abuse and endangerment against Bram linked at least in part to her breastfeeding with THC in her system. (It can take from several weeks to months after consumption for THC to leave the body entirely.) The DA’s Office is also alleging that the presence of marijuana in the couple’s home endangered their children, because gardens invite violent robberies and raw marijuana can be eaten by children.

“The prosecution brought in an expert witness [during the preliminary hearing], a medical doctor who said she had come across several cases where children had eaten raw marijuana and gotten sick,” Levinsohn explained. “The concern is that if you have raw marijuana around the house, it could be picked up. Children will put things in their mouths.”

DA Mike Ramsey said there was more than just marijuana involved in the concern over child endangerment.

“They were also manufacturing hash, which includes the use of solvents that are dangerous to children,” Ramsey said. “This was a commercial operation with marijuana trimmings all over the house and accessible to the toddler who could, as they are apt to do, share with the baby sibling.”

The preliminary hearing on the criminal charges started at the end of June and is scheduled to resume Aug. 1. Levinsohn is prepared to request that all testimony by the doctor be stricken because she was unable to produce evidence—in the form of medical records—to back up her claims that she’d treated children who’d become ill from eating raw marijuana.

Bram and Walsh, who maintain their garden was for personal use only, are hoping that the case will be dismissed, but they’re not holding their breath. Bram, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child and due in September, is poised to continue the fight.

“I’ve already been separated from one newborn—I’m not going to do it again,” she said.