Mother vows to fight abuse, drug charges

November 02, 2007

Brad Williams, Knoxville News Sentinel (TN)

If Suzette Evans lived in North Carolina, where marijuana possession is decriminalized, it's unlikely she'd have gotten more than a $50 citation when police found a pipe in her home.

In Grainger County, however, like most of Tennessee, possession of a marijuana pipe can cost nearly $1,000 - and your children.

Evans' 15-year-old son was taken away from her the night of Aug. 10, to remain in protective custody for 34 days. They are reunited now, after a special meeting with the Department of Children's Services, but a hearing set for Nov. 16 will determine whether Evans' medicinal use of marijuana constitutes child abuse, neglect or endangerment.

"I have narrow-angle glaucoma," Evans said. It is a rare condition even among those with glaucoma.

Though Evans admits she recreationally used marijuana when she was younger, she says she resumed smoking small amounts to help her eyes.

"I come from an old hippie family," Evans said. "Do I agree with the abuse? No."

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said uncontested medical research dating far back has shown that marijuana smoking reduces intraocular pressure with the first inhale to combat glaucoma, one of a number of illnesses marijuana is used to treat.

St. Pierre said a man in 1976 successfully sued the government to get medical marijuana.

"The disparity of how marijuana is treated in our society is terrific," St. Pierre said. "Twelve (states) have actually decriminalized the possession of marijuana," usually less than 1 ounce. Marijuana can be legally medically used in 12 states as well.

"Tennessee is a state which has no accommodations for people who use cannabis for medical purposes or nonmedical purposes," St. Pierre said. "The Southeast Untied States really yields no quarter to marijuana smokers."

He said in California, for example, people can medically smoke marijuana on the street in accordance with state law.

"It's night and day between what's happening in eastern Tennessee and the entire Western United States," he said. "This woman is a victim of geography."

Evans has produced medical records showing she is being treated for narrow-angle glaucoma. The records show a decrease to an all-time low intraocular pressure during the time she says she was using cannabis, and an increase after she quit using it.

She quit when Rutledge police officer Adam Morgan found her pipe July 24 during a search Evans consented to. No marijuana was found.

Evans said her son did not know she used marijuana until her pipe was found, and he had not been exposed to it.

She had a court date set for the charge, and thought that was the end of the matter.

On Aug. 10, Evans and her son, Jesse Johnson, got into an argument and Evans called the police, as she had done before.

"My son has a history of mental, emotional and behavioral problems. He has been in treatment since the age of 7," Evans said. She said they've had arguments before and she's called the police.

"They've always been courteous, professional … (they've) handled us with great respect," Evans said of the Rutledge Police Department.

Officer Richard McGinnis responded to her call on Aug. 10 and took her son into protective custody. Evans and her son allege that he began asking Jesse questions only about Evans' use of marijuana.

"All of it" was because of the standing marijuana charge, Evans said. "That officer knew that I had not been sentenced yet."

The charge against her now is child abuse and child neglect or endangerment, for admitting to smoking marijuana in her home, which the warrant says "exposed her 15-year-old son to illegal drugs."

"If the mother is using marijuana in front of the child, does the child have accessibility to the illegal drug, too?" McGinnis said.

McGinnis said at the time he took Johnson into protective custody, he had no knowledge of the marijuana charge, that he made the decision because of the nature of the domestic dispute. He said there were other factors in the case which he could not yet comment on. He also made the decision because the police chief had been out to the house the previous night.

"I thought there needed to be a separation between the two individuals," he said. "(Evans) was irrational, would not speak with me."

DCS took action from there, and the formal charge was decided later.

Evans said she will fight back in civil court over a host of issues and is thinking of starting her own National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws chapter, since the only two in Tennessee are university affiliated. In the meantime, she says she is no longer smoking or receiving other glaucoma treatments, because of concerns about side effects.

"I have stopped all conventional treatment … for this rare form of glaucoma, and I realize I'm jeopardizing my quality of life. But if that's what I have to do to make a stand, (I will)," she said.

She also said she will not go to a state with medical-use laws.

"Why should I be forced to move from a state that I've lived in for 10 years?"




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