January 12th, 2011 | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Activism, CLEAN UP

Weed, the People: How a Cannabis Patient Lost Her Foster Kids



One passage from today's cover story about the business of marijuana in Oregon may have jumped out at you—Kat Cambron, co-owner of Wake n Bake Cannabis Lounge in Aloha, had three foster kids removed from her home last week.

Here's a fuller account of how authorities removed those three teenage boys from the home Cambron shares with her husband in Aloha. Cambron and Michael Balter, executive director of the Portland-based nonprofit Boys & Girls Aid, disagree on several key points in the story.

Boys & Girls Aid is one of about a dozen private agencies in the Portland area that recruit, train and certify foster parents. The agency then places and monitors foster kids in certified homes on behalf of state or county government.

As for Cambron, she had suffered serious neck, back, shoulder and hip injuries when she rolled an ATV at the Oregon Dunes in 2005. Cambron underwent a series of surgeries and spent years on pain medication.

Cambron, who has one adult daughter of her own, became a certified foster parent for Boys & Girls Aid in October 2009. Before she was certified, Cambron says she informed the agency in writing that she was on several kinds of heavy medication—including Dilaudid (a painkiller), Percocet (another painkiller), Flexeril (a muscle relaxant) and Valium.

She says Boys & Girls Aid knew she was on those medications and approved her as a foster parent. But Balter says that based on a report from Cambron's doctor, the agency did not believe Cambron was on any medication—and Balter says Cambron never disclosed she was.

"They definitely knew," Cambron insists. "What they're doing is trying to twist it."

For the next 15 months after becoming certified foster parents, Boys & Girls Aid trusted Cambron and her husband to care for some of its most troubled kids—teenage boys, many of whom had violent tendencies and a history of running from other foster homes. Most were placed for short-term stays in Cambron's home, the longest for three months. Cambron estimates she has cared for about 40 kids in all.

After spending nearly a year as a certified foster parent, Cambron says she unwittingly ate a cannabis-infused cookie at a party last September. She discovered pot was far more effective at alleviating her pain than the cocktail of pills she'd been prescribed.

Cambron became a state-certified medical-marijuana patient in late September. As a result, she says she cut her number of medications from 18 to five. But she also learned there's a lack of reliable resources for patients to obtain weed. So she decided to open Wake n Bake with a friend who had more experience in the pot world, Andrew Gwin.

The cannabis lounge opened the day before Thanksgiving. Cambron says she told Boys & Girls Aid only that she was opening a consignment shop—she says she didn't mention weed because she was unsure the business would last. But after giving interviews to WW for the cover story, Cambron informed the agency Jan. 7 that she was a pot patient and had opened a marijuana lounge.

Cambron says the agency told her later that same day that they were immediately removing the three boys who were in her home at the time. Cambron says an agency official told her she could no longer be a foster parent because marijuana use violates Boys & Girls Aid policy. The kids were removed the following morning, on Jan. 8.

Cambron says it's deeply hypocritical for the agency that allowed her to care for kids while on heavy pain meds to take the children away after she switched to marijuana.

"I'm really upset at our system," Cambron says. "That does not seem to me to be a reason to not help children. I am much clearer."

On Jan. 7—the day agency officials informed Cambron they were removing the kids—Balter declined to discuss the case in detail with WW pending Cambron's written permission. But Balter indicated in a phone interview he was concerned Cambron was a marijuana user.

"Many of our young people have drug addiction issues," Balter said. "If they can find that in the home, or smell it, or see it, that's very provocative."

After receiving written permission from Cambron to discuss details of her case, Balter told WW on Jan. 10 that his agency has no specific policy against marijuana use. Unlike the interview three days prior in which he indicated pot was the main issue, Balter said Jan. 10 the agency took Cambron's kids because she wasn't immediately forthcoming about becoming a patient and opening the lounge.

"In all honesty, this is about trust," Balter said. "How could we put children in a home with someone who isn't telling us all along what's going on?"

Cambron says the agency is backpedaling on the marijuana issue because she mentioned to them she may consult a lawyer about a legal claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"That's really interesting that they're changing their story, because they were wrong and they know it," Cambron says. "Now they're attacking me personally after everything I've done for them? How rude is that?"

Asked whether the state has a policy on medical marijuana and foster care, Gene Evans, spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, emailed this response:
DHS Child Protective Services workers treat the appropriate use of medical marijuana the same as any other prescription drug. The basic issue is: Can the adult provide for the safety and well-being of the child?

DHS will assess how the drug use affects the parent or caregiver's ability to make sound judgments regarding the safety of the child—and what behaviors resulting from the parent's or caregiver's drug use may present a safety threat to a child and impact their ability to provide protection. Where and how does the person use medical marijuana? What is their plan to ensure a child would not have access to the drug or be exposed to second hand smoke? Does the patient's physician have concerns about the ability to provide safety and well being for the child?

(Photo of Cambron and Gwin by leahnash.com)
 
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