Colorado Making Way for the Next Peter McWilliams

The terrific Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi reports on the sad case of Jack Branson , a 20-year HIV patient who uses medical marijuana to keep down his medication:

Would Branson give consent to these officers to conduct a warrantless search of his home in Thornton?

Well, of course he would consent - especially after, as Branson tells it, the dozen or so armed cops explained, in detail, the needless tragedies that would befall his home if they were forced to go through the trouble of returning with a warrant.

In they went.

The police, naturally, knew exactly what they were looking for and quickly seized about a dozen marijuana plants Branson was growing in the backyard.

Charged with felony cultivation and possession with intent to distribute, the 38-year-old Branson, who is in a 20-year fight with HIV, is now facing a maximum six years in prison.

Branson, who had no previous criminal record, claims that a physician named Dr. Cynthia Firnhaber verbally recommended medical marijuana to him in 2002 to help ease his pain.

"That or pick out a hospice which you'd like to die in," Branson alleges the doctor told him.

The strange thing is, this wasn't even a federal bust. It was a state task force that arrested Branson. Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000. The problem is that under that law, Branson had to have been smoking under a doctor's recommendation. The doctor who gave him that recommendation wouldn't put it in writing because she worked for the University of Colorado. The school won't allow its doctors to prescribe medical marijuana because to do so would put its federal funding at risk. Branson has since obtained written permission from another doctor, but he still must stand trial for the plants seized before he had that permission, when he was relying on the oral recommendation of the university doctor. She's now in South Africa, and it's not clear if the state will permit her to testify from out of the country.

Caught in the nexus of this sick web of federal blackmail, misplaced law enforcement priorities, and prosecutorial excess is Mr. Branson, who anticipates a slow, painful death if convicted, or if by way of a plea he is forced to give up his marijuana. He has indicated that he'll commit suicide instead.

As Harsanyi explains, it's easy to get lost in the details of this case. What's quite clear is that Branson is a very sick man. He isn't and wasn't selling marijuana. At least two doctors feel he needs it. So his apparent crime was to trust the word of a doctor who due to federal law, not state law, couldn't give him her prescription in writing. For this, and for a measly 12 plants, the state of Colorado wants to send him to prison, and possibly kill him.

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  • ||

    Slightly off topic, but only slightly

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20056

    "...Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy who offered a damning view of criminal justice in the United States: "Our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long.""

  • ||

    You see this shit! You see how fucked up things are! Who persecutes a dying man, forcing him to suffer, just to... to... To what exactly? Score political points? I can't believe this will play well with the constituency. No, this is just "You will respect my A-thore'-a-ty" bullshit. And they get away with this every fricking day.

    This is why the collapse of prohibition will herald the new libertarian era.

  • ||

    I would like to hear Tony Snow's views regarding medical marijuana after he's had the Atomic Flu for a while.

    As for this case, I thought Colorado had this sort of stuff on the back burner; did they elect a new governor, or something? (I wasn't paying attention)

  • ||

    Well, on the bright side, no one in prison is going to want to rape him...

  • ||

    crimethink,

    That's a little naive. Think about the percentage of the prison population that is HIV positive.

  • ZenMasterThis||

    So politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests claim to know more about treating chronic illness than medical doctors. What's everyone so worried about?

  • ||

    Shades of Kubby as well. You have a guy with a death sentence medical condition who defies all the odds to outlive even the most optimistic prognosis and all the gov wants to do is fuck with him. Disgraceful.

  • ||

    sigh. Just once, I'd just love to sit down with prosecutors (federal or otherwise) who put these kinds of cases forward and ask them why they do it. Just to get a straight answer. I really want to understand.

  • ||

    "Just once, I'd just love to sit down with prosecutors (federal or otherwise) who put these kinds of cases forward and ask them why they do it. Just to get a straight answer. I really want to understand."

    Just once, I'd just love to sit down with prosecutors (federal or otherwise) who put these kinds of cases forward and stab them in the throat. Just to serve justice. I really want to do this.

  • SPD||

    Andrew,

    They're THINKING ABOUT THE CHILDREN!

    Seriously, the childish stigma surrounding marijuana has got to go away. Law 'n' order Republicans and nanny-state Democrats will never let that happen.

    Time to form the breakaway republic, people.

  • Juanita||

    sigh. Just once, I'd just love to sit down with prosecutors (federal or otherwise) who put these kinds of cases forward and ask them why they do it. Just to get a straight answer. I really want to understand.

    The laws the law, it must be enforced exactly as written. Don't want to go to prison, learn every law in existense and obey them all exactly to the letter.

  • ||

    On what grounds can they charge him with intent to distribute? I am no lawyer, but it seems that merely growing marijuana, without contacting dealers or potential buyers, is insufficient grounds for the intent to distribute charge.

  • ||

    Alejandro,

    It's determined by weight. It MJ weighs > x then intent to distribute.

  • ||

    Warren | March 30, 2007, 11:56am | #

    You see this shit! You see how fucked up things are! Who persecutes a dying man, forcing him to suffer, just to... to... To what exactly? Score political points? I can't believe this will play well with the constituency. No, this is just "You will respect my A-thore'-a-ty" bullshit. And they get away with this every fricking day.


    Although in this case it was local cops......I think its safe to say that every single drug or gun cop is a law enforcement also ran! DEA and ATF are just jobs programs for law enforcements lesser lights! In the case of Colorado local jurisdiction I'm sure they are already making plans to sell this mans property to recoup the efforts of the the valiant men in blue...er black!

  • ||

    Any drug conviction could mean Branson might lose his Medicaid or Social Security benefits.

    Sure, the drug laws are primitive 'n' barbaric, but it was pretty swell of the taxpayers to buy, nor at least help to buy, this guy a house in a nice neighborhood because of a condition he no doubt contracted through voluntary behavior, wasn't it?

    ...already making plans to sell this mans property to recoup the efforts of the the valiant men in blue...er black!

    They'll probably try to steal his house, but ... see above.

  • ||

    I'm almost at a loss for words. These mindless, soulless, authoritarian thugs will certainly burn in hell. How sick has our country become? What is the pathos that seemingly infects every level of our society? I have so many angry things I want to say. I want to blame the christian taliban, the pandering politicians, the prison/industrial complex, etc... but the blame really falls back on us (the american public) because we have stood back in apathy. The United States has lost its way and we have only ourselves to blame.

  • ||

    Mr. F. Le Mur | March 30, 2007, 1:56pm | #

    Any drug conviction could mean Branson might lose his Medicaid or Social Security benefits.

    Sure, the drug laws are primitive 'n' barbaric, but it was pretty swell of the taxpayers to buy, nor at least help to buy, this guy a house in a nice neighborhood because of a condition he no doubt contracted through voluntary behavior, wasn't it?

    ...already making plans to sell this mans property to recoup the efforts of the the valiant men in blue...er black!

    They'll probably try to steal his house, but ... see above.


    Both interesting but off topic! I think you're cavalier in reference to the barbarity of the drug laws. If you don't want to pay for SS or Medicaid programs I've got no problem with any argument that you want to put forth but don't use one set of bad laws (drug laws) to remedy another set of bad laws (various social programs) you don't care for!

  • ||

    Has anyone see the recent study which has marijuana ranked as one of the least harmful (measured by how many times the normal dose is required to be lethal)and and least addictive drugs possible. Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine all were found to be many times more dangerous and addictive. Simply ridiculous.

  • ||

    I would bet the prosecutor in this case is one of those whackjobs who just luuuuvs Jay-sus. Sorry, Branson but you live in a Christofacsist
    nation now where there's no room for compassion and common sense.

  • kerfwango||

    Totally in sympathy with the post but, if the University doc was worried about her license, why didn't she just advise him to get a script from a regular doc?

    This, of course, is not to excuse anything on the prosecutorial or enforcement side.

  • ||

    As a physician who has authorized prescription for medical marijuana in a country where it is legal at the federal level (Canada), I can tell you kerfwango that a lot os physicians do not want to get involved in what could be a contentious issue (trust me, the paperwork to get this approved is a pain in the ass). I am the only one in my group that is willing to go through the hoops to see that patients can get a licence for the drug, and this in a jurisdiction where it is viewed as legal. I can only imagine that regardless of state law, physicians in Colorado would be way more concerned about what the Feds thought. If I was in their shoes, it might be a bit of a career killer.

    Hell, when the state is even keeping an eye on how many opiates you prescribe (I worked in NYS for a bit with their wonderful "triplicate" program) and you see studies that many Americans are probably needlessly suffering because physicians are scared of what the government might do them if they give some patients what they need, you have to think that governement is the problem!

  • ||

    Juanita,

    Weak. Try harder next time.

  • Speaking of naive||

    Mr. F. Le Mur said:
    "Sure, the drug laws are primitive 'n' barbaric, but it was pretty swell of the taxpayers to buy, nor at least help to buy, this guy a house in a nice neighborhood because of a condition he no doubt contracted through voluntary behavior, wasn't it?"

    So, Mr F, everyone who has HIV has it because they were irresponsible? So you think everyone with HIV had it coming?

  • ||

    Inexcusably unjust, period. Anyone who does any amount of research will find that marijuana - earth's medicinal plant, you fucking fascist pricks - is one of the few things that glaucoma patients, AIDS patients and cancer patients can rely on to keep their appetites in the midst of their drug regimens. In the case of AIDS and cancer, it's used to ease pain and retain the desire to eat; for glaucoma, it eases the swelling (and the pain). File under "more sensible than killing pain with Jack Daniels or a pharmaceutical drug."

    I read this, and I can't stand it. I read this, and there's that horrible feeling in my belly, the one that every human should feel when they are in the midst of murderous injustice. I can't find the words...travesty? State cruelty for the sake of it? Legalized hate, with no recourse for the poor citizen on the business end? This is intolerable, a miscarriage that's a litmus test for morals and ethics in anyone who calls themselves human.

    Here it is country simple: if you're on the state's/feds' side, you are a fucking monster. Got that? Good.

    Juanita, thanks for playing...not.

  • ||

    You know what, i think this is all bull shit, for one there is nothing wrong with marijuana, especially if its been legalized. The only reason marijuana is illegal in the first place is because some business tycoon back in the 30's used it as a business slogan putting in everyone's head that marijuana kills and it needs to be illegalized. What kills me is that the guy is gonna go to jail for 6 years. You have murderers and child rapists who go for just a couple months if any as long as they dont plea insanity. if they plea insanity than they get away scott free besides some therapist sessions. this whole case is fucking stupid and i really would like to just punch these idiot politicians who decide these things

  • ||

    And Btw, marijuana doesnt kill and never has, and i like clancy j's response on this, nice words

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