Crista Eggers, Nebraska
Most medical cannabis activists become advocates for safe access because they’ve had direct experience treating a medical condition with cannabis. Crista Eggers is not one of those. She became a committed activist because cannabis is prohibited in her state, even for her seriously ill child with intractable epilepsy.
“We are in a state where there is no medical cannabis law, where there is no CBD law, so we still do not know if this is an option that can help our child,” says Crista. “But it’s helping people like our son in states next to us, so we hope to bring that option, that access, that right to Nebraska.”
Nebraska represents one of the rare holdouts among US states in forbidding use of cannabis even by the seriously ill. Yet it’s available in its neighboring states.
Colton, now age 7, suffers from constant seizures on a daily basis, ranging from the violent tonic-clonic to absence and complex partial seizures. Since he was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 2, Colton has been prescribed 20 different medications in nearly 100 different combinations. Nothing has worked. In fact, his condition has worsened, and many of the medications have produced side effects including nausea, dizziness and headaches. The worst was a serious allergic reaction that put Colton in the hospital for 11 days.
“His body shutdown from a medication that is studied and FDA approved. We came close to losing our child because of this medication,” says Crista. “Every day my stomach churns knowing we’re making the decision that we think is best, which is continuing these meds, even though they don’t seem to be doing a lot.”
Colton’s doctors say they’ve exhausted all available pharmaceutical treatments, all anti-convulsant and epilepsy medications. Except cannabis, because it’s not legal in Nebraska. Obtaining it illegally could mean criminal charges for Crista and loss of parental rights.
“We don’t want to be criminals, but unfortunately so many people are forced to become criminals as patients,” says Crista. “We’re struggling to know if we’re helping him with these meds or hurting him, particularly now that he’s older and can tell us how incredibly sick he feels.”
The number of medications Colton takes require constant bloodwork to monitor their effects, bloodwork that could reveal if he had been given any cannabis-based medications.
In 2019, once it became clear the doctors in their state couldn’t offer any more help, the Eggers went to Minnesota to see epilepsy specialists. After testing Colton, the subject of cannabis came up.
“Those conversations were very limited and very difficult,” says Crista. “The doctors said, ‘I would suggest you either move to a state where medical cannabis is legal, so that we can try this for Colton, or you go back home and you try to get it legalized.”
Rather than become another family of medical refugees, the Eggers decided to return home and fight for safe access for Colton and other families.
“I thought, how hard can that be?” remembers Crista. “I don’t think many people would disagree that, watching a child suffer, if there is something that could give even the slightest hope of helping them, everybody would be on board with that. Who would be against that?”
Two days after that conversation with the doctors, Crista was at the capitol in Lincoln testifying at a hearing on a medical cannabis bill introduced by state Senator Anna Wishart.
“Really quickly, I realized this was far bigger than my child or my story of trying to help my child,” says Crista. “I met many parents who have been fighting this for years, many who have become criminals to help their child and others like us who don’t want to risk losing our children, but also know that’s what’s happening is not right.”
That’s when Crista became a volunteer for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and became active in the legislative process.
Crista and other Nebraska advocates thought they had a good shot at changing their state’s law through a 2020 ballot initiative. But after they submitted signatures and it was certified by Nebraska’s secretary of state, the state supreme court stepped in to remove it from the ballot. In answer to a lawsuit filed by a local sheriff, the court ruled in a split decision that the voter initiative violated a requirement that such measures only deal with a single subject.
In the majority’s view, creating a right to use and possess medicinal cannabis was a different purpose than creating a system for regulating the production and distribution of cannabis, though the two dissenting justices wrote that the court had “squeezed the concept of single subject” so much that they had diminished the rights of voters.
After that disappointment, Nebraska advocates have returned with a pair of complementary initiatives that would together accomplish what the 2020 measure intended.
“Being Nebraska, we’re going on nine legislative sessions since medical cannabis was brought up,” says Crista. “We’ve had some educational opportunities, and the advocacy in the state, the support is strong, but it’s tough to look in the face all the people who’ve been fighting so long.”
Crista never envisioned that she would take on something like medical cannabis advocacy, but her involvement has helped her deal with her family’s challenges that tragically echo in the stories she hears from other parents.
“To be a part of something in the midst of that pain and suffering, to be working toward bringing greater awareness and making lives better, that’s been something I can hold on to,” says Crista. “Sometimes you can see measurable change, even just in conversations with people. That can be very therapeutic.”
Through her advocacy, Crista has come to recognize that her family is not alone in this. She has seen how the stories of families like hers help change the narrative and educate people, breaking down the stigma.
“No matter who you are, we can all agree that we want to make human suffering better,” says Crista. “That’s why it’s such an honor to be in this space and to be working with an organization that is telling those stories.”
Signature gathering is underway for Nebraska’s 2022 ballot initiatives to establish safe access. To find out more, visit the website for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana at nebraskamarijuana.org or follow them on facebook at facebook.com/NebraskaMJ.
This profile was originally published in the February 2022 ASA Activist Newsletter
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