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Nevada County father fights for medical marijuana awareness

Forrest Hurd and his son Silas sit behind a dropper bottle full of MCT oil infused with medicine that's used to treat Silas' intractble epilepsy caused by the Lennox-Gestault syndrome. For years, Silas did not respond to traditional medicinal methods, until his father introduced him to the CBD and THC concoction.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

Forrest Hurd never planned to become an advocate for medicinal cannabis.

It was a job thrust on him when his son, Silas, began having seizures.

Hurd, now 37, was a typical father when Silas was an infant. Then, years later, he found himself filing suit against Nevada County in an attempt to remove, or reword, the marijuana grow-related Measure W from the June 2016 ballot.

That step was one of the first that vaulted Hurd’s advocacy for medical marijuana to the forefront and sparked the creation of the Caladrius Network.

Hurd failed in his legal attempt to halt Measure W, though his efforts proved unnecessary. The initiative, which would have prohibited all outdoor grows and limited indoor grows to 12 plants, failed.

About a month after the failed vote Hurd found himself sitting in an ad hoc committee that tried to cobble together temporary cultivation rules for the county. A text hit his phone. Silas just had his first life-threatening seizure.

Hurd had run out of the medicinal marijuana his son uses, a problem he knew was coming long before voters cast their ballots on the Measure W question.

“From there, they still have not stopped,” Hurd said of the seizures. “I haven’t gotten them under control.”

Hurd’s struggles with elected leaders, community members and even cannabis advocates led him to create the Caladrius Network. Built on relationships between parents, growers and laboratories, the network seeks to connect families with the medicine they need.

The network currently serves under 50 families. Hurd’s not accepting new families, but he wants the network’s ranks to grow in the future. He needs a lot to happen to meet that goal: laws must change and a legal framework must exist. Perhaps most important is the need to educate people and change their perception about cannabis.

Many people who view marijuana favorably see dollar signs in a crop that’s rich in THC, the compound that gets people high.

“I understand, that’s 97 percent of the market and I’m one little guy jumping up and down,” Hurd said. “But there’s just this greater need — people suffering from unimaginable circumstances who need a voice.”

The need

The Caladrius is a mythical bird that lived in a king’s home. The stories differ about how the Caladrius would cure someone, though legends say it could pull sickness from people. The bird would fly away, dispersing the illness and leaving the formerly sick person cured.

It was a name that fit Hurd’s fledgling organization.

Sitting in a Grass Valley coffee shop, Hurd flipped through pictures of children in the network. Some suffer from epidermolysis bullosa, a disease that causes blisters. Any small bump can lead to a wound, an effect that’s led to the phrase “butterfly kids,” Hurd said.

One such child was on methadone and topical ketamine. The child suffered from a neck wound for seven years. Treated with medicinal cannabis, the wound began to heal after two weeks, Hurd said.

“When I see some of those other kids, I almost felt like we got lucky,” Hurd said.

Hurd’s eyes teared up at one point as he discussed the children the Caladrius Network has helped. The illnesses suffered by these children cause drastic life changes.

Dennis Desmond’s son, Clay, is one of those children. Clay had his first seizure at 4 months old. The seizures grew worse over time, which led to tests and about a year ago to a diagnosis of Dravet syndrome, he said.

Medications didn’t work and caused side effects. Then, shortly after the diagnosis, Desmond connected with Hurd.

“We all met,” Desmond said. “He was just open and honest and accommodating.”

The Caladrius Network provides Clay with medicine at no cost, which Desmond estimates has saved his family hundreds of dollars. Hurd helped Desmond hone the medicine’s cannabidiol, or CBD, ratio, as well as the frequency it’s administered.

Perhaps just as important as the medicine is the connections to other families the Caladrius Network has given Desmond. He’s been able to hear their stories and share his own, giving and receiving emotional support, he said.

“The Caladrius Network has been an incredibly unique, supportive and accommodating resource for our family and our dear son Clay’s special needs,” Desmond said.

The medicine

It can take trial-and-error to find the right medicine. Medicinal marijuana typically contains cannabidiol, an element that doesn’t get people high. However, medical cannabis is more complex than THC versus CBD. Patients need the right combination of terpenes, types of oils, in their medicine. Those terpenes affect the brain in different ways for different people, Hurd said.

That means testing is required, which leads to more expense.

Key to the success of Caladrius is the relationships it has with people like Chris Schutz, director of business development with Sequoia Analytical Labs in Sacramento.

Schutz’s business got involved with Caladrius after meeting Hurd’s family and hearing Silas’ story.

“When he brought the Caladrius Network, that just sounded absolutely fantastic,” Schutz said.

Founded in 2011, Sequoia Analytical Labs charges $85 for testing one sample of cannabis. Some families need four tests every month, Schutz said.

Caladrius helps its families get those tests for free.

Schutz needs to make money on his business, but he said he also wants to offer as much free testing as he can.

“When you see your check, that’s a good thing,” he said. “But when we actually get to help someone like Forrest, like Silas, that is priceless.”

The law

Public perception about marijuana is changing across the country. Medical cannabis exists in a majority of states. Recreational marijuana is now legal in eight states, including California.

Hurd opposed the passage of Proposition 64, which passed in November and legalized recreational cannabis for adults at least 21 years old. It’s the tax structure built into the proposition that bristled him.

“The tax and regulatory structure is looked at only through the lens of the profit model,” Hurd said. “We’re really pushing at the state level and the local level for nonprofit tax-exempt donation markets.”

Prop 64 created a regulatory system that includes growers, distributors, dispensaries and, of course, consumers, said Melissa Sanchez, a Sacramento attorney.

“The days of growers providing medicine to a patient directly are gone or will be gone, once we hit commercial licensing,” Sanchez said.

Hurd said using a donation model under Prop 64 is possible, but challenging. He worries, however, about families who find themselves with no way to help their children without violating the law.

“The kids I work with can go through an ounce in four days,” Hurd said, referencing the amount under state law someone can legally possess. Hurd is part of a lobbying effort on the state level to change the laws that negatively affect patients. He also hopes to be part of a local panel that helps craft new cultivation rules for Nevada County.

That effort is expected to begin this season. County officials have selected a company to serve as a facilitator for the local regulation writing process. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote next month on approving a contract.

“It’s important to keep speaking out,” Sanchez said. “We’re just at a starting point now.”

The future

Supervisor Ed Scofield held a hard line against marijuana. He supported Measure W, the local ballot initiative that would have prohibited all outdoor grows in the county. District 2, the South County area he represents, also supported the measure.

Things have changed. Scofield, who had conversations with Hurd in early 2016, said he sees some benefit to medical marijuana.

“I’m all for Forrest and his son and any children like that,” Scofield said.

Some hard truths have shaped Scofield’s changing views, Prop 64 being near the top. The statewide ballot initiative has legalized a substance that’s long been illicit. State coffers are anticipated to fill because of the sale of cannabis, scheduled to start next year.

Scofield is quick to note he still has reservations about cannabis. It remains a Schedule I drug under federal law. Additionally, he remains firm that no marijuana cultivation should negatively impact neighborhoods.

For Hurd, changing people’s minds about cannabis is essential. He said communities must begin treating it as therapeutic medicine. If that happened, one day hospitals could use medicinal cannabis.

Before that day is reached a sea change is required.

“It’s not just going to happen,” Hurd said. “We need public awareness.

“And we’ll get there,” he added moments later. “I’m confident we’ll get there.”

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.


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