Gianna Dragotto sits in her wheelchair as she eyeballs the surroundings of the 420 Central lobby, one of SanTana's handful of legal dispensaries. Signs with green X’s are scattered around the dispensary that read “Vote Yes on Measure X,” the medical marijuana measure in Costa Mesa backed by the city. Natalie and David Dragotto, Gianna’s parents, sit on a couch as David sets up an iPad game for Gianna to play. Her eyes light up and David leans in to give Gianna a kiss on the cheek.
“Gianna’s seizures started at 10 months...and the doctors told us she wouldn’t live to be older than five,” Natalie says in a somber tone, as she glances over at her husband. “The doctors literally told us to go home and focus on having more children because Gianna wasn’t going to live.”
Now 12, Gianna has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (a rare and severe form of epilepsy) and Congenital Disorders of Glycosylation, a metabolic condition that prohibits the glucose synthesis critical to proper organ development. Her illnesses have inhibited her ability to speak and walk, and also cause nearly 200 atonic, or “drop,” seizures an hour. These 12-15 second seizures are triggered by temporary alterations in brain function that cause brief lapses in muscle tone. In a 24-hour period, Gianna usually experiences a minimum of 1,000 drop seizures a day, on top of the occasional grand mal.
Known as a “little warrior” by those who know her, Gianna has become the inspiration of Measure X, one of three medicinal marijuana measures on Costa Mesa's ballot next week. From the time she started using cannabis oils in 2014, Gianna’s parents say her seizures dropped from 200 an hour to 10, and she’s learned how to say words like, “mama,” “mermaid” and “Bambi.” The oils, David explains, have allowed Gianna’s brain to make connections and have made her personality come alive. “The oils are miracle,” Natalie adds.
Obtaining the right oils isn’t easy, though. Of the thousands of cannabis oils on the market, only a handful are safe, let alone effective. And none of the good ones are locally made, making them even more difficult to procure. Measure X allows Gianna’s oils to be made in her hometown eliminating their obscurity.
“These oils shouldn’t only be in one or two dispensaries,” says Natalie, who knows of only two dispensaries in Orange County that sell Gianna’s oils. “They should be sold in every medical marijuana dispensary… Measure X makes it possible for lab-tested, medical grade oils to be more available, and at the end of the day that’s the most important thing. Marijuana is a medicine.”
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Unlike Measure’s V and W, Costa Mesa’s other medical marijuana measures, Measure X doesn’t permit storefronts in the city—yet, anyway. Rather, Measure X will designate an area of Costa Mesa to become the mecca of cannabis lab testing, research and development, processing, manufacturing, distributing and transportation.
“We want the industry to grow, which is why it’s important to have a production, manufacturing and lab testing site,” says Rob Taft, who drafted Costa Mesa’s Measure V but now supports Measure X. “Measure X serves a greater purpose than the other two measures—and I wrote one of them. Opening a bunch of dispensaries doesn’t ensure they’ll carry the medicine Gianna needs. Measure X gives other children like our Little Warrior the ability to have their medicine made here in Orange County, and that’s huge…This is taking place because of Gianna.”
(Whichever measure gets the most votes in Costa Mesa becomes law, provided said measure gets over 50 percent of the vote)
Gianna’s transformation is what motivated Natalie, David and their friends to band together and fight for the importance of creating clean, medical-grade cannabis oils. “What happens if the people making the oils Gianna needs gets raided?,” Dave says. “Making oils requires extraction, which isn’t legal—they’ll get shut down. We need a place where people can make the oils legally. If something happens to the people making the oils, then what happens to us and Gianna? That’s why we are fighting for this.”