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Hope emerges after delays keep girl from getting marijuana oil

November 2, 2013 Updated: November 2, 2013 at 10:21 am
Caption +
Mia Halabi, 2, who has severe epilepsy, lies on a bean bag chair behind a staircase railing Friday, November 1, 2013. Mia is stuck in a bureaucratic no-mans-land, where she has been approved by the state for medical marijuana a month ago, but cannot get it because she has not received her paperwork. Mia's parents hope the cannabis oil will stop or reduce the 10-15 seizures she has every day. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

The Halabis were in the hospital with their 2-year-old daughter Mia last week when they learned that the marijuana oil they hope will change her life was finally available after months of waiting.

A day later, they learned that delays at the state marijuana registry would keep her from getting it.

"We've done everything to get this for our daughter," said Mohamad Halabi, who moved recently to Colorado Springs from New York City for the oil. "You can imagine how hard this is."

The Halabis tried unsuccessfully for almost two weeks to get answers from the state. Then, late Friday, after inquiries by The Gazette, the state told them they will be able to get the oil by the end of next week.

"It's great news; we're very happy," Halabi said. "But frustrated we had to go through this after we did everything we were supposed to do."

Mia has severe epilepsy that the country's top neurologists have been unable to successfully treat. Like dozens of families, the Halabis moved here to try a special strain of marijuana called Charlotte's Web, which has no intoxicating effects but is rich in a molecule called cannabidiol that seems to regulate brain circuitry and stop seizures.

Mia's parents completed the required steps to get their toddler legally registered as a medical marijuana patient. They got recommendations from two doctors in August and sent their application to the state along with a check for $35 via certified mail in early September. Colorado law allows people to use the certified mail receipt as a temporary medical marijuana card for 35 days. The regulation is meant to give the state time to process applications while not denying patients access to marijuana.

Mia's 35 days ran out a week before her oil was ready, but her card had not yet arrived in the mail.

The Halabis tried to get the oil from the dispensary anyway but were told no.

"I'm sorry," Josh Burson, the worker on the other side of the counter at Indispensary, which sells the oil, told them. "If we don't follow the law exactly, we put all our patients at risk."

Burson said he sees about three cases a week with the same paperwork problem.

Desperate, Halabi called the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the medical marijuana program, about the delay. He was told Mia's card was approved a month ago and was "being processed."

The state's medical marijuana website says the current wait for a card is 35 days. But applications for minors require review by the state's chief medical officer, said Department of Public Health and Environment spokesman Mark Salley. "So the 35-day window doesn't apply to minors because they require a special review."

The department would not provide an estimate to the family of when the card would arrive. Then Friday, the state told Halabi that his daughter's card will be printed and mailed early next week.

"It's a relief," Halabi said when he heard the news. "We just wish it could have all happened like it was supposed to in the first place."

As they wait for the card, Mia struggles.

The Halabis, who are Muslim, were in Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora last week because one of the treatments used to calm her seizures causes kidney stones. Even with a morphine drip, she writhed in pain.

In addition, her mother, Miriam Khaled, said seizures, which hit 10 to 15 times a day, seem to be lasting longer.

"In our religion, God has told us there is no disease I have not created a cure for," she said as she looked down at her daughter in the bed. "That is what we think Charlotte's Web is."

Mohamad Halabi talked about his hopes for the oil.

"My dream is to one day run after Mia, play with her," he said. "I want to really meet her for the first time."


Contact Dave Philipps: 636-0238

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