‘I would have sat every day of those 20 years in jail’ – parents still in legal limbo over cannabis oil

 

Rhett Wallace and  Cassie Batten with Cooper. Picture: Christiane Barro

By CHRISTIANE BARRO

It’s been nearly three years since they were arrested, facing 20 years in jail for administering an illegal drug to a minor.

Cassie Batten and partner Rhett Wallace are still forced to illegally purchase medicinal cannabis to treat their severely epileptic son Cooper Wallace, despite its legalisation in Victoria.

“Since the day we were raided and arrested, nothing’s changed for us. We’re still breaking the law,” Mr Wallace said.

The Mernda couple have been relentlessly fighting for legal access to Z7, a cannabis strain with high amounts of CBD and a low THC level.

“We’re going to bury our son one day. One thing I want before that happens is for him to access this legally,” Mr Wallace said.

In March, 29 children with intractable epilepsy were selected as the first in Victoria to get access to medicinal cannabis after the Andrews Government imported the liquid from Canada.

“We’ve already found a product that works for Cooper so we’re not going to change what’s currently working,” MrWallace said, regardless of what other medicinal cannabis products become available. 

He said Z7 was “life-changing” for Cooper.

Cooper had suffered as many as 80 seizures a day, and this has reduced to as few as 10, and the number of hospital stays radically dropped from roughly 250 days in 2013, to only 20 days the following year.

There are still many disability services they can’t access, Ms Batten said.

The campaign for legalising medicinal cannabis has been a long one, and it isn’t over yet.

“We can’t get respite care, for example, because they can’t administer it (cannabis oil) and it’s pointless to have respite when you have to go there three times a day,” she said.

As parents of eight, every day is organised around giving Cooper his cannabis dosage at school, which involves removing him from class and into a private room.

Mr Wallace said that because the substance was illegal, they could not ask anyone else at the school to be involved.

“As professional teachers, they can’t risk their careers to administer that. But we don’t get any break at all,” he said. 

The couple pay $60 for an eight-week supply of cannabis oil but Ms Batten said some suppliers were scamming desperate people by charging up to $6000 a month.

Children with epilepsy will receive the Government’s first batch of local cannabis oils by the middle of the year.

While a large part of their fight is ensuring Z7 is manufactured as a medication, Mr Wallace said the drug must be made affordable.

“If this is made legal but it’s made ridiculously expensive, why would I get it from the pharmacy and pay three times the price when I can get it elsewhere cheaper, regardless of whether it’s legal or illegal,” he said.

Mr Wallace said some suppliers were selling a watered-down version to help meet the  increasing number of requests for cannabis oil.

“Suppliers are wanting to stretch their product as much as they can so they’re watering it down, effectively. That’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

There is still the possibility that police could raid their home and confiscate the cannabis oil.

Medicinal cannabis had given people hope, Mr Wallace said.  While there were some reliable suppliers, many would “take that hope and cash in on it”.

“There’s no guarantee you’re getting what you’re asking for. It’s very risky,” he said.

For now, Cooper’s supply is steady, Mr Wallace said.

“I don’t want his life to end before we’ve done this legally, because this is his fight – for everything he has done in-between, and for everything we were told he wouldn’t do,” he said.

“For that little boy and for how it was changing his life, I would have sat every day of those 20 years in jail.”