This week the family of Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old quadriplegic who died of acute respiratory failure a year ago while serving time in the D.C. jail on a marijuana charge, sued the city and Greater Southeast Community Hospital for inadequately treating the breathing problems he experienced while in custody. Magbie, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident at age 4, smoked marijuana to relieve the pain associated with his condition. Although he was convicted of possessing just one joint and was eligible for probation, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith E. Retchin sentenced him to 10 days, partly because he said he planned to continue smoking marijuana. Retchin, who was not named in the suit, said she tried to ensure that the jail was equipped to care for Magbie, who used a ventilator, which the jail did not have, to assist his breathing at night. An official investigation found that, due to "failures of communication," the assurances Retchin received concerned the ability of a federal prison to care for a paraplegic, rather than the ability of the local jail to care for a quadriplegic. The Marijuana Policy Project says Congress shares the blame for Magbie's death, since it overrode a D.C. ballot initiative that would have protected patients like him from prosecution for marijuana possession.
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