OGDEN — A woman suffering from a debilitating and potentially fatal genetic disease says she will continue to fight so that her daughters do not have to choose between suffering or being labeled as criminals.
Former South Weber resident Enedina Stanger returned to Utah after moving to Colorado to be booked into the Weber County Jail Monday, Dec. 28, as part of her sentencing process.
On Dec. 10, Stanger pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance in a restricted zone. The charge was reduced from a 3rd-degree felony of child endangerment as part of the resolution. Although Stanger received no jail time with her sentence, she was required to appear in order to be processed for booking information, usually consisting of things like fingerprinting and mugshots.
Friends and family of Stanger, along with advocates for legalizing medicinal marijuana in Utah, came to the Weber County Jail to show support for her.
Stanger is diagnosed with rare form of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a genetic disease that affects the connective tissues that support the skin, bones, blood vessels, and many other organs and tissues. Defects in connective tissues cause the signs and symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which vary from mildly loose joints to life-threatening complications. It has also bound her to a wheelchair.
The mother of two said she has previously tried opioid pills, but that they made her feel absent and did little to affect the pain. She tried medical marijuana which alleviated her symptoms and allowed her to be present for her daughters.
“There should be no question that medically it should be legal all over the world,” Stanger said.
Part of her motivation to advocate for legal medical marijuana is to make sure her daughters do not have to experience what she has. Both girls, one 3 years old and the other 4 years old, were diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and have already started showing symptoms.
“If I have to go to prison to make sure that my daughters have a new form of medicine and a way that they can survive and not be hurt, and not have medicine that ends up ruining their lives later on, I will do anything I can to do that,” Stanger said.
Police say on Oct. 1, a witness saw Stanger smoking marijuana in her parked vehicle with one of her daughters inside, according to a probable cause affidavit. A South Ogden Police officer arrived and issued Stanger a citation, opting not to arrest her due to her condition.
Stanger denies ever smoking in front of her daughters and claims the officer changed the witness’ statement.
Judge Joseph Bean suspended the jail sentence, community service, $1,000 fine and order for substance treatment that the charge would normally carry. The only real stipulation was that Stanger is required to complete a parenting course.
Stanger’s case was unique and one of the first his office has encountered, according to Weber County Deputy Attorney Ben Willoughby. Her sentence was reduced for multiple reasons — mainly, her condition would make completing the terms impossible and she was planning to move to Colorado shortly after the case concluded.
“The driving factor of the case was making sure the children are not exposed to the drug,” Willoughby said. “There has to be some penalty, and you can’t design anything less severe than this.”
Both the prosecutor and judge expressed their remorse for Stanger’s situation, but that violations of the law must be enforced and can only be changed by the state legislature.
Shortly after the sentencing, Stanger’s family moved to Frutia, Colorado where both recreational and medical marijuana is legal. The move uprooted the family’s lives, forcing her husband to resign his job and making their financial situation uncertain.
Michael Stanger said living in Utah made them fearful of losing their children and that even in Colorado they still worry Child Protective Services can come at anytime to take them away.
Stanger says she accepts the punishment, but that she will continue advocating for legal medical marijuana in Utah so she and her family can come home.
Come January 25, when the Utah State Legislative Session begins, Stanger will return with her family to lobby for the legalization of medical marijuana. Stanger said she supports Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) and his bill, which would legalize whole plant marijuana for patients.
“We really hope this never has to happen again,” Stanger said. “We are patients, not criminals.”