COLBERT COUNTY, Ala. - A Colbert County family fighting to help treat their daughter's severe disabilities is now having to fight the state to do it.
Leon and Amanda Cunningham tell us the Department of Human Resources has launched an investigation and appointed a guardian for their daughter because they're treating her with CBD oil. The State of Alabama legalized the use of CBD oil this earlier year, but that hasn't stopped DHR.
The Cunninghams welcomed us into their home late Thursday to see for ourselves the beautiful young girl at the center of this controversy.
Allie is 8 years old. She suffers from a number of disorders including severe autism, partial symptomatic epilepsy with complex partial seizures, ADHD, and diabetes. After doing their research, the Cunninghams tried using CBD oil as part of their regimen and say the results have been remarkable.
“When she would get upset or frustrated about something, she would literally take her fists and beat herself on the side of the head and she would tear her hair out, literally tear it out by the roots,” Allie’s stepfather Leon Cunningham told us.
Cunningham says all that has stopped and for the first time ever Allie has begun trying to talk and communicate in other ways. But when they told Allie's teacher about it, the school notified DHR and they launched an investigation. When a DHR caseworker came to their home, Cunningham recorded the conversation.
“The report states that Amanda directly told this person that she was giving cannabis oil to her daughter,” the caseworker explained to the family, as heard on the recording.
The tape also reveals Cunningham tried to explain state law provides for the use of the oil in cases like Allie's. In fact, Leni's Law, as it's called, also says, “An agency of the state may not initiate any child protection action or proceedings, based solely upon the parent’s or child’s possession or use of CBD as allowed by this statute.”
We scheduled an interview with Colbert County School Superintendent Gail Satchel to find out why the school filed the report with DHR. But when we arrived we were told there would be no interview, only a prepared statement that said they could not discuss “confidential information pertaining to any student.”
DHR filed a petition in Colbert County court, once again admitting they became involved because the school reported Amanda was treating Allie with cannabis oil, or CBD. State Representative Mike Ball, one of the sponsors of Leni’s Law, became involved at that point and wrote DHR officials urging them to “carefully review the law before any actions are taken against the Cunninghams.” That case was dismissed before a hearing could be scheduled.
Undaunted, DHR filed a new petition, in neighboring Lauderdale County, but there were some changes. Now, DHR accused the Cunninghams of potentially subjecting Allie to abuse and said the school reported she appeared “overly medicated on an unknown medication or substance.” Gone was any mention of CBD oil.
“And also in that new one, in that new petition that they filed, they also said that they were not allowed to speak with my other children when they came into my home which was also untrue,” Cunningham pointed out. Sure enough, the first petition, filed in Colbert County, said, “Upon investigation, the worker was able to enter the child’s home, speak with the other children in the home and see Allison who is non-verbal.”
However, without so much as a hearing, on December 1st Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Benjamin Graves appointed Florence attorney Daryl Moon as guardian ad litem. He visited the family Thursday night in preparation of the case going to court on Monday, December 19.
“We feel like they’ve changed the facts in the petition in order to get around the law so they could go ahead and investigate something that they had no right to investigate to begin with,” Cunningham said.
Late Friday afternoon, we were told Judge Graves will likely dismiss the DHR’s latest petition and has issued a gag order in the case.
When contacted late Friday afternoon, Cunningham told WHNT News 19 upon the advice of his attorney, he could no longer discuss the matter with us.