Advocates, juror agree that sick people should decide how much pot is appropriate
August 9, 2009 – BOULDER, Colo. — Rolling out of the Boulder County Justice Center in a wheelchair Thursday with a jumble of once-confiscated pot in his lap, Jason Lauve smiled and waved to supporters after a jury acquitted him of possessing too much medical marijuana.
Eight men and four women found the 38-year-old Louisville resident not guilty of a felony drug possession charge, as well as lesser charges of possessing marijuana and marijuana concentrate.
Lauve, who was prescribed marijuana to relieve the pain from a back injury, burst out crying, grabbed his defense attorney and nearly fell to his knees when the verdict was announced.
“Thank you so much,” he yelled out to the jurors.
Boulder District Judge Maria Berkenkotter had to pause and admonish Lauve’s supporters as they applauded and called out during her reading of the verdicts.
She ordered that more than two pounds of Lauve’s marijuana supply, which had been confiscated by police in a raid of his home last summer, be returned to him.
“I have a right to live,” Lauve said afterward. “All of us as patients have a right to have our own life, not the government’s life. We should not be treated like criminals.”
Laurie Borgers, a medical marijuana patient from Denver, said she was elated by the verdict.
“I am happy and relieved as expected to see justice was served today,” she said outside the courtroom. “They need to stop picking on sick people.”
Lauve could have spent up to three years in prison had he been convicted of the most serious charge.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said Thursday his office will not appeal.
“That’s the way the system works and we respect the jury’s verdict and the work they put into it,” he said.
State law at core of case
Lauve’s case cast a bright light on Colorado’s 9-year-old medical marijuana law, which lets patients with chronic pain and in debilitating health obtain a state-issued ID card clearing them to grow and buy pot.
Lauve joined the state’s medical marijuana registry after he was severely injured by a snowboarder who plowed into him at Eldora Ski Resort in 2004. He said the collision reduced him from an avid cyclist and expert telemark skier to someone who relies on a cane and wheelchair to get around.
He testified during his four-day trial that he smoked pot three times a day and mixed the drug into his food once daily to relieve his pain. Medical marijuana was the most effective pain management tool he had come across, Lauve told the jury, and the drug allowed him to wean himself off of several addictive opiate-based painkillers.
Law enforcement authorities, acting on a tip from a neighbor, seized 34 ounces of marijuana from Lauve’s home on June 26, 2008. Prosecutors claimed he violated the law by possessing far more than the 2 ounces of usable pot and six plants permitted by the statute.
But Lauve and his lawyer countered that the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2000 contains a provision that allows patients to present an “affirmative defense,” ultimately giving them the power to determine the amount of marijuana appropriate for their needs.
Prosecutor Karen Lorenz contended in closing arguments that by ignoring the limits in the statute, patients and caregivers would essentially have “carte blanche” to possess whatever amount of pot they wanted, gutting the law’s intent.
“There’s no doctor to support this, there are random numbers being thrown around based on what he thinks he needs on a day-to-day basis,” Lorenz told the jury. “That’s not what the medical marijuana statute is for.”
Lauve’s attorney, Rob Corry, argued that prosecutors never came close to proving that his client was doing anything other than legally medicating himself and treating pain that only he could gauge.
“There is no evidence that he had more than what was medically necessary to treat his severe debilitating medical condition,” Corry said. “Who gets to decide what is medically necessary?”
‘We believed you’
Jury foreman Roger Grady said after the trial that he and his 11 colleagues simply attempted to interpret the state law as “common men” would.
“We believed you,” he told Lauve outside the courthouse.
Grady, 64, said it was clear that the best person to determine how much medical marijuana a patient needs is the patient himself.
“We don’t know what the limit is for medical marijuana, and the prosecution didn’t produce anyone who knew what that limit was,” he said.
If prosecutors were using Lauve as a “test case” for how the state’s medical marijuana law should be applied, Grady said, they chose the wrong man. Grady accused prosecutors of not doing their “homework” and bringing a relatively weak case against Lauve.
“We thought, ‘This guy is doing everything in the law as it was written,'” Grady said.
Garnett, the DA, said he didn’t see the trial as a medical marijuana test case.
“It’s a careful process we pursue to analyze a case,” he said. “We try to treat every defendant individually and fairly.”
But medical marijuana advocate Laura Kriho, of Boulder, said the case was a waste of public resources that brought misery upon a man who did nothing wrong.
She said she hopes Thursday’s verdict will bring a fresh understanding of the importance of letting patients take the lead in determining the best treatments for themselves.
“The DA shouldn’t be spending taxpayer dollars telling people how to medicate themselves,” she said. “This sets a precedent that Boulder County juries are not going to convict medical cannabis patients for using the amount they see fit.” By John Aguilar. Source.