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Recipe For Trouble

Is It A Crime To Give A Child Marijuana To Control Violent Outbursts?

Debbie Jeffries of Rocklin, Calif., and her mother, Lorraine, love to cook. Lorraine has even published a cookbook, "50 Years Of Our Favorite Family Recipes."

But what they are whipping up these days isn’t in your average cookbook, reports 48 Hours correspondent Harold Dow. They’re making marijuana - medical marijuana - for Debbie’s son, Jeff.

Using marijuana as a medicine is not unusual in California. Five years ago, voters passed a law allowing patients with serious illnesses, such as AIDS and cancer, to use marijuana for pain, if a doctor approves. But this case is unusual because the patient is 8 years old.

"Jeff has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is ADHD; oppositional defiant disorder; conduct disorder; intermittent explosive disorder; bipolar disorder - any disorder you can think of," says Debbie, a single mother.

The disorders often lead Jeff to violent, uncontrollable outbursts.

"We’ve had to call the police," Debbie says. "I have woken up to a knife in my back. He used to stab the dogs next door. The teachers were afraid of Jeffrey. He picked up a chair and threw it at a teacher."

Doctors first started Jeffrey on Ritalin at age 3 and began adding other medications over the years, as nothing seemed to stop the outbursts.

"He was a walking pharmaceutical lab," Debbie says. "It was incredible. And nothing was working."

Debbie grew desperate last May when officials issued a deadline: Get Jeff under control in 30 days, or he would be placed under the care of the county.

That led her to an Internet article on how marijuana calms the brain and to Dr. Mike Alkalay, a pediatrician who believes in the medical powers of the drug marijuana.

"This medication has been around for 5,000 years," Alkalay says. "It's basically a Chinese herbal plant that's been used in the Middle East. It's been used in India. It's a very safe medication."

Alkalay admits 8-year-old Jeff isn’t the typical patient to receive marijuana but agreed, without seeing him, to recommend Jeff take the drug.

The decision to try marijuana shocked Debbie’s parents, Ken and Lorraine.

"There was absolutely no way I was for it," says Ken, who describes himself as a conservative. Lorraine adds, "It caused quite a bit of strife in our household."

The results were immediate.

"Within a half hour," Debbie says, "I looked over at Jeffrey, and he just had this smile about him, this glow, and he said, 'Mommy, I feel happy.' And that’s the first time that he’s ever said that."

Just how the marijuana is helping Jeff is not completely clear. "His brainwaves don't connect the way ours do," Debbie says of her son. "The marijuana is allowing him, somehow. It's filling in the gap in there for him, so he is learning how to manage his anger."

But Child Protective Services had a different opinion, and they opened an investigation. Debbie says they are accusing her of being an unfit mother and putting her son at risk.

Part of the problem is that Dr. Alkalay never saw Jeff before prescribing him the marijuana. The doctor says he was comfortable with that because "I know it's a very safe medication."

Child Protective Services is taking Debbie to court where a judge could stop Debbie from giving marijuana to her son. If that happens, Debbie says she won’t be able to control him, and will lose her son to the custody of the state.

"I’m not a criminal," says Debbie. "I’m a mother who cares for her child and will do anything to help her child."

The Result

In just under an hour at a closed-session juvenile court hearing, the judge dismissed the case against Debbie.

"I can’t even express how excited I am," she says. "It's been proven that what I'm doing to Jeffrey isn't a crime."

The decision to allow a child like Jeff access to medical marijuana may have far-reaching consequences.

"It opens up a whole door for parents who have been through what I've been through," says Debbie.