On Oct. 1, Enedina Stanger experienced that moment she had been dreading since she began smoking marijuana medicinally to treat symptoms of a rare genetic disease.
There was a South Ogden police officer at her car door. A passer-by had told police he saw her smoking marijuana.
In court records, the police say Stanger was in the van — which an officer said smelled like marijuana smoke — with her 2-year-old daughter. The woman, who was later charged with third-degree felony endangerment of a child, insists that she never smokes near her two children, and that she only uses the drug to lessen the nerve pain, anxiety and nausea from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
“I knew that if there was ever a time I was faced with the law, I would be honest,” Stanger wrote in a December blog post. “I have nothing to hide. I have a super-rare condition [that] no one knows how to fix. [Marijuana] is legal in almost half the states already, proving to be of use to those that it helps. And beyond more than anything, the only reason that I fight to stay alive is to be with my children.”
Stanger wrote that she pleaded with the officer, asking him what she should do. His answer?
Move out of state. Go to Colorado. Become what Stanger considered a “medical refugee.”
It took just three days for the Stangers to pack up their essential belongings at their South Weber home and flee for Colorado. They left everything they had — their family, their Mormon ward, her doctors — behind. They lived in hotel rooms, Stanger wrote, while they worked to sell their Utah home and find a new place in a state where they knew no one.
Stanger, who uses a wheelchair, came back to Utah on Dec. 10 to plead guilty to a reduced charge: class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana in a drug-free zone. On that day, attorneys told 2nd District Judge Joseph Bean that the family was moving out of state and recommended that she be sentenced to court probation, according to a court recording distributed by the Libertas Institute. As part of the probation, Bean ordered that Stanger complete a parenting class and not break any laws for two years.
In court, Stanger told the judge that her disease makes it so her bones dislocate “completely at will” and that her soft tissue is damaged.
“On the date in question, my daughter was with me because my collarbones had separated and she didn’t want her mom to hurt by herself,” Stanger told the judge, her voice raspy and hushed. “Cannabis is the only thing that the medical community has found that helps me. Because of this, I’ve been forced to leave my state … and most likely [will] die in a place that is not home because the laws have been changed and made like this.
“I feel like I have to make this plea because of the laws, but I do not believe they are just. And I will do anything until I die to change these laws, because my daughters are diagnosed with the same condition and I need a way for them to survive without pain.”
Stanger and her husband, Michael Stanger, have joined the Libertas Institute in supporting one of two medical marijuana bills coming before the Utah Legislature this year. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, would legalize medications containing the cannabis extract cannabidiol — which does not have mind-altering effects on users — as well as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Enedina Stanger told the Libertas Institute that a different measure, which would legalize only the cannabidiol, would still not help her to treat her pain and other symptoms associated with her diagnosis.
On Monday, she voiced support for the medical marijuana bills from outside the Weber County jail, where she was booked into the jail and released — a technicality required because officers hadn’t arrested her.
“If I have to go to jail,” she told KUTV, “if I have to go to prison to make sure my daughters have a new form of medicine and a way they can survive … I will do anything I can.”