These are promising times for Colorado`s medical marijuana patients. For years, they`ve suffered in the dark, desperately seeking only to follow their physicians` orders to use marijuana to address their debilitating medical conditions, taking their wheelchairs at midnight to the streets to purchase low-quality medicine at inflated prices, or struggling in the difficult and physically-taxing endeavor of growing it themselves in expensive indoor gardens.
But finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Patients can visualize a world where the supply of medical marijuana is almost as safe to obtain as more dangerous and addictive hard narcotics such as Oxycontin, Percocet, or Fentanyl.
The optimism hasn`t come easy. In August, the Boulder District Attorney`s Office prosecuted Jason Lauve, a wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patient for two felony charges of possessing low-quality medical marijuana for his own use. While two high-level prosecutors participated in the four-day trial, these talented attorneys could not overcome simple facts: Jason was protected under the Colorado Constitution, which allows him to consume marijuana to treat extreme pain associated with his broken back.
In addition to understanding Lauve`s legal rights, many jurors saw the light about marijuana`s continued prohibition. Marijuana has alleviated human suffering for thousands of years, is not physically addictive, does not rip apart internal organs like harsh narcotics, and presents an all-natural and organic alternative to synthetic medicine.
After the verdict and an ensuing firestorm of taxpayer outrage, Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett opened his mind. He said that it would be better if marijuana were legal outright, and not just for medical purposes. This is an extraordinary statement from a prosecutor, and Garnett should be applauded for seeing that prohibition is a failed policy that only hurts those that have already suffered too much.
Garnett then reached out and explored clarifying Colorado`s law through civil litigation, rather than criminal prosecution. In a letter to the Daily Camera on Sept. 20, Garnett wrote, "I would like to see these issues clarified outside the context of a criminal prosecution, .. . I have assured them that I will not prosecute dispensaries since I don`t want the obvious lack of clarity about their operations to be resolved in a criminal context." (emphasis his.) Then, a week later, Garnett told County Commissioners that prosecuting marijuana cases (not just medical marijuana cases, but marijuana in general) is his office`s lowest priority.
We can only hope that Garnett`s words are met with action. Because before any civil discussions can occur, Garnett must begin by dismissing the current criminal charges pending against Sherri Versfelt, a young Nederland woman guilty of nothing more than suffering from a debilitating medical condition and legally consuming and dispensing small amounts of medical marijuana to other patients.
When government agents showed up at her home without a search warrant, they were dealing with someone who has no prior criminal convictions, no money, and no weapons. She did, however, have a state-issued Medical Marijuana Registry Card. Versfelt has already spent 27 days in jail because she could not afford to post bond. This coming at a time when we face a distressed economy, high unemployment, and the prospect of violent criminals being released from prison because the government has run out of our hard-earned tax money.
Versfelt is currently pregnant, due in December, and the extreme stress of a felony jury trial (scheduled to begin Oct. 19 at the Boulder County Justice Center) might be too much for her and her unborn son, especially because Sherri suffers from a severe long-time medical condition stemming from an adolescent surgery that makes her pregnancy itself a miracle. At age 14, she had a watermelon-sized growth removed, along with one of her ovaries.
For voters to take seriously Garnett`s desire to be "the most progressive DA in Colorado," he must cease the fearsome prosecution of sick people and those who care for them. As long as peaceful citizens fear pounding on their doors by armed police, criminal charges, and the humiliation that comes from being accused, there can be no open and civil discussion, no trust.
Colorado voters made medical marijuana legal. Patients and caregivers are dispensing and consuming it legally. Jurors and taxpayers should not be subjected to lengthy trials over a plant. After a long dark road, Colorado`s suffering medical marijuana patients finally have hope that better days lie ahead. Garnett can lead the way by turning words into action.
Robert J. Corry, Jr. is a Colorado defense attorney specializing in medical marijuana. He represents Jason Lauve and Sherri Versfelt.
By Robert J. Corry, Jr.
October 15, 2009