Mieko Hester-Perez is a modern day warrior mom, a champion of special needs families. Every single day, her mission is to help families improve the quality of life for their loved ones through unconventional treatments and she has pledged to “leave no family behind.”

Just this past Sunday night, Mieko was presented with the Chalice Festival's Industry Dedication Award for her tireless work helping families with special needs children to better understand medical cannabis. Drawing on 20 years of legal experience, 15 years of special education knowledge, ongoing research, and her personal experiences navigating through treatment options for her own son, Mieko continues to help families throughout the world achieve positive results with cannabis.

Not your typical cannabis activist

Now, it should be mentioned, Mieko Hester-Perez is not your typical cannabis activist. She doesn’t wear tie-dye, wasn’t raised by hippie parents, and doesn’t use cannabis herself. Quite the contrary: she comes from a very conservative family that includes a long line of law enforcement. “I know I’m an unlikely cannabis advocate,” Mieko says, “being raised in South Orange County among other conservative constituents.”

Because of her professionalism and reliability, physicians who don’t normally recommend cannabis call Mieko to consult with patients’ families who are considering cannabis when all other treatments have failed. She understands and sympathizes with these families because she’s been in their shoes: before trying cannabis as a treatment, her son Joey had been on over 14 different experimental medications that did not work. Secondary to his autism, Joey was diagnosed with anorexia and malnutrition and it was Mieko’s extensive research into how to get him to eat that led her to bake a few batches of gluten-free cannabis edibles for her son. 

Not only did the cannabis edibles successfully improve Joey’s appetite, which led to improved nutrition and healthy growth, Mieko also noticed he began making eye contact on a more consistent basis, he had less aggression and became more productive in educational and home settings.

Image: Mieko with her son, Joey

Going public to help other families

With the thought of helping other families in mind, Mieko had the courage to go public with her story of successfully treating her son Joey’s autism with cannabis. This was in 2009, before Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported on the medicinal potential of cannabis, when the idea of giving the plant to children was still extremely taboo. Although medical marijuana is not known to be a cure for autism, it has proven to facilitate a higher quality of life for Joey and has ushered him into documented progressive development. Mieko's groundbreaking interview with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America changed the world for many parents who have since been able to find success in treating their own children with cannabis. 

Since that GMA interview, Joey and Mieko’s journey has been featured on a number of other shows including FOX Morning News, The Doctors, The Dr. Juan Rivera Show, 20/20 and The National Marijuana News. Their story has also aired internationally on The Columbian Latin American News Network, Univision, Telemundo, ABC Fusion Channel and Australia’s number one morning show in the United Kingdom.

Images: Joey & Mieko continue to share their success story with the world

Providing resources and support for special needs families

As Co-Founder of UF4A.org (the Unconventional Foundation for Autism,) Mieko consults with families, autism organizations, universities and healthcare professionals. In 2012, Mieko was given the Evelyn DuPont Award for improving the lives of children with autism and she has also received special recognition from Congress for her many hours of community service and dedication.

Her expertise in cannabis consulting with special needs families has made her an ideal board member on the NORML’s Woman’s Alliance, which is one of the most progressive and respected marijuana organizations internationally. In 2015, Mieko was placed on the Advisory Board for Acology Inc. and created a custom, FDA approved, child-resistant container to house “Joey’s Strain”, a specific cannabis strain for persons on the autism spectrum. Mieko is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Cannabis Science, Inc. representing the voice for patient-centered focus regarding clinical decisions. 

In 2016, Mieko developed The Joey Network introducing the first cannabis and autism-centered app made available for patients throughout the world. This app was created as a free informational tool for families and medical professionals, who have exhausted all other treatment options associated with treating autism symptoms. Updates on cannabis news and media clips are also included within the app. “Helping families keeps me going,” she explains, “that’s why the app is free.”

Images: Joey then and now, enjoying life. (With his mother Mieko on the cover of Medical Cannabis Journal in 2010 and, more recently, having fun at an arcade.)

Helping as many families as possible

Mieko wants to help as many families as possible so, as a result, she is an extremely busy woman. Staying on top of which collectives are the most patient-focused, knowledgable and helpful to special needs families and are also operating within the current laws (which can sometimes change overnight) is daunting. Even some well-meaning collectives have turned out to be operating illegally and she’s unfortunately had families call her and say “hey, my collective was shut down this week.” Mieko does everything she can to prevent that scenario.

Because of the constantly changing legal landscape and Hopegrown’s dedication to vetting all of the collectives listed on our website, Mieko was almost as excited to meet us as we were to meet this legendary warrior mom. “When I met Pete & Peter, [the founders of Hopegrown,] I was like, Thank you! We’re a team. We definitely complement each other. Hopegrown takes a lot off my plate.” 

We’re thrilled to have teamed up with Mieko Hester-Perez, joining her in her mission to provide reliable resources and education for special needs families considering cannabis as a treatment for their loved ones. To stay up to date with all the wonderful things Mieko is doing and learn more about The Joey Network, visit her blog. If you’re brand new to the idea of medical cannabis, take a few minutes to check out our New Patient Pathway for short educational videos. And, if you’d like to see if there are any collectives in your area that meet Hopegrown’s strict standards, enter your zip code in our Provider Finder. Have more questions? Let us know. We’re here to help.

Update: Mieko's New Info & Resource Center

Founded by Mieko Hester-Perez, renowned cannabis activist and special needs advocate, the From the Earth Information & Resource Center has become an oasis for southern California families seeking help with medical marijuana and health professionals looking for reliable cannabis information.

A special needs parent herself, Mieko well understands the challenges and pitfalls other families face when exploring cannabis therapies. Because of this, her mission of "paying it forward" extends not only to the way she provides attentive and personal support but also her willingness to provide every consultation pro bono.