Until recently, using cannabis was a dangerous situation for parents, and even more so if they were treating their child with it.
Sierra Riddle is a different kind of cannabis parent. She made national headlines when her son, Landon Riddle, was dying of cancer and was the youngest cannabis patient in Colorado state history. Her struggle with treating Landon made national headlines.
“Landon was born in Utah and was a healthy child up until he received his [measles, mumps, rubella] vaccinations. And then within 30 days, Landon was dying from terminal cancer,” Sierra Riddle said. “He was given an 8 to 10 percent chance of survival, and we began treatment. They say that it’s a 93-plus success rate for the type of cancer that my son had, but unfortunately, my son was not going to be in that 93 percent. He was going to be in the 7 percent. He was reduced to half of his body weight. He went in at 40 pounds. Within 90 days, he was 20 pounds. He lost his ability to talk, to walk, to eat. He did not eat. For more than 30 days, he was IV-fed and he was only 2 years old. … He was on a myriad of varying detrimental pharmaceuticals such as oxycontin, morphine, Ativan, fentanyl, along with all of the treatments they were giving him. They did cranial radiation for 30 days, which really damaged Landon. At around the 90-day mark, they told us that Landon was dying and we needed to take care of him and they were sending in hospice to make him comfortable. And my mother and I did not accept that, and we left straight from that hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, and drove my son into Colorado. Met with the Stanley brothers, who were the first creators of the CBD strain Charlotte’s Web, and my son became the youngest American citizen given a medical marijuana card at 2 years old. And it saved his life.”
After moving to Colorado, Riddle was reported to the state’s child protective services more than a dozen times because she took Landon off the powerful pharmaceuticals and began treating him with cannabis instead.
“I had no idea that nobody had never done that before, and so it was a really big deal and we were plastered all over CNN and Yahoo and MSNBC and everything else because I refused treatment and they tried to take my son for me and put him in medical foster care solely to poison him and kill him, which is what would have happened,” Riddle said. “But I refused to give up, and I stood my ground. I searched high and low. I could not find a doctor or a lawyer that was willing to stand with me for fear of losing their law license or their medical license, and Landon was the only child anywhere near his age doing that, and they couldn’t tell me that it would cure his cancer or help him. They could only tell me that, obviously, it was making him better. So it was very, very harrowing experience. Definitely sprinkled a little PTSD into my life over all that, but I eventually was able to find a criminal cannabis lawyer who was willing to stick up for Landon and his constitutional rights as well as a PhD in the endocannabinoid system.
“They showed up for me. They testified. They spoke to the lawyers, the judges, CPS, and told them that what I was doing was not wrong, that it was saving my son’s life and that if they allowed these oncologists at this hospital to resume treatment of my child that they would kill him. It was just a very difficult year of our life. But we won. … And from there, things just kind of exploded. A lot of families started doing what I did. They moved from their home states — Oklahoma, Utah, Texas, Arizona, wherever it was — to be able to have access to even attempt to save a child’s life. We started a group called the Medical Marijuana Refugees, and we all would get together with our sick kids and hang out, and it was almost like we were outcasts because of what we were doing, and everybody really martyred us and talked very badly about us and acted like we were all just a bunch of drug addicts trying to get our children high, when really medical treatments failed our children and we were just searching for anything that was going to save their lives.”
Years later, Riddle said, the same hospital is running studies on cannabis and its efficacy with epilepsy, dosing patients inside the hospital.
“All of the things that I was punished for and martyred for are now acceptable guidelines,” she said. “And Landon now is going to celebrate seven years cancer-free this year, which also will mark five years past any medical treatment, which is what the medical community considers cured. So Landon will be cleared medically this year and is the first and only child to have successfully survived childhood leukemia without the treatment.”
Riddle tried just about every cannabis product on the market.
“Finally, I switched over to solely doing the cannabis oil, which is a thick, black oil. That is just a reduction of the whole plant. And so Landon would take one oil for his CBD and then one oil for his THC up until I created my product line,” Riddle said. “The whole reason I created it, it’s called Landon’s Health Hut, obviously for a reason, because I was being literally robbed. I was paying $2,000 a month for his CBD that wasn’t even including his THC. So, essentially, his first year of cannabis therapy treatment cost me over $25,000. And I was a single mom with a sick and dying child. I had to leave my family and my support.”
So she started planting her own seeds and growing, eventually founding Landon’s Health Hut in order to bring high-quality cannabis medicine to patients.
“All of the things that I was punished for and martyred for are now acceptable guidelines.”
“Now I have farms with acres and acres and acres that I’ve provided genetics to because back then, there was only one company putting out this CBD and they were not allowing anybody else to do it. They weren’t going to share. There was a waitlist that you had to put your child on. You had to move to Colorado, become a resident, get the medical card, and then go on a waitlist for a year, and sometimes it was over a year. And your child is suffering this whole time,” she said. “So I created Landon’s Health Hut and started doing it myself and offering an organic, potent and, most importantly, affordable option for parents out there that we’re looking to treat their children with CBD. I was one of the first people to start a CBD product line. I’ve owned it since 2014, and so, back then, that was a whole other path of martyrdom where everybody was, ‘Oh, it’s a snake oil and CBD is fake and it doesn’t really do anything.’ It was a very trying time and now flash-forward, everybody and their mom, including Oprah Winfrey, has a CBD product line. Back then, they talked mad shit about us, that we were out to hurt the industry, that we were bamboozling people and selling snake oil. And so it was a very difficult journey to down that road as well, but I knew that these parents were being taken advantage of, much as I was. It can be very, very expensive to purchase this oil, and if it’s something that your child literally depends on for quality of life, it really puts you in a very bad position and makes you feel like you are a bad parent if you cannot afford it. And so should my child’s life not be saved because of my financial status?”
Riddle said she still owes $50,000 for the first round of traditional cancer treatment but has been able to blaze a trail so future families do not have to contend with the same ordeal, whether it is with their child or another loved one.
“We’ve been very successful, as we have 30-something states now with some type of cannabis law, whether it’s CBD or THC or recreational. So it has been a long five years, but it’s obviously been very successful. And we’ve been able to save a lot of lives,” Riddle said. “And that’s really where it comes down to and now being able to put out genetics and to allow people to grow their own and to process their own and to really take not only their health care but their child’s or their wife’s or their husband’s or their grandmother’s health care into their own hands and not be at the mercy of pharmacology.”
By chance, Stephanie Mathis met Sierra Riddle at a convention. The dispensary she and her husband own, Steve’s Greens Cannabis + Wellness, carries some of her products in a state that, until recently, treated her like a criminal and made her keep certain aspects of her life locked down to protect her daughter and stepchildren.
“I’ve never been able to be an activist because running a business, for one. My husband ended up getting full custody of his kids, so we had full-time stepmom. And I had also been in a variety of nonprofits, if I want to name-drop them,” Mathis said. “I’ve been a Girl Scout leader for years and am a 13-year Girl Scout with my Gold Award. I didn’t really want to be out there in a public sense on supporting cannabis because it was scary. And plus the fear that someone’s going to turn you in and my husband losing custody of his kids. Of course, we wanted to have a kid, and then once my kid came around, even the possibility of someone turning you in and losing your own kid, it’s just terrifying. Even opening the CBD store; I was so hesitant to put out publicly that I was opening a CBD store. What if they find out? What if they tell me I can’t be a Girl Scout leader anymore? What are the parents going to think? This Girl Scout leader now is running a dispensary or running a CBD store, which is basically the next thing to having a dispensary. So it was very, very terrifying. I’ve always considered myself an advocate and just very much appreciate what all the activists in this state have done over the years because I was never in a position where I could be publicly vocal about it.”
That all has changed since the passage of State Question 788. Mathis’ stepchildren are now adults, and her daughter just turned 10 years old. And while she has left a leadership role in the Girl Scouts, incidentally over a cannabis sign she purchased, her daughter is now active in the organization and sold cookies outside Steve’s Greens earlier this year.
“I always said, ‘I’m going to have that kid. That’s going to be my kid. Once my dispensary’s open, my kid’s going to be the kid selling Girl Scout cookies in front on 4/20,’” Mathis said. “I feel like that fear is no longer there. So I’m pretty comfortable talking about being a parent. You do what you gotta do because your kids come first, and even with employment, I’ve had to stop smoking I don’t know how many times to get a job or to do what I have to do to make sure my family’s supported. It is a double life that you have to live. And that fear; I still find myself looking over my shoulder. I’ve walked into my store, like, ‘Man, it smells like weed in here.’ But that’s okay! It’s just imbedded in your head to look over your shoulder.”