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Cannabis was a life saver, yet man faces prison for using

By Hempology | August 29, 2007

Rocky Mountain News, CO
28 Aug 2007
Bill Scanlon


Ailing Man Could Get 12-Year Term in Possession Case

BRIGHTON – Medical-marijuana advocates rallied Monday for a Thornton man who has AIDS and Hepatitis B but didn’t register with the state to grow the pot he says keeps him alive.

Jack Branson, 39, faces up to 12 years in prison, charged with cultivating and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute.

Before opening statements in his trial at the Adams County Justice Center, Branson said that without marijuana, “I would have gone the way of a lot of my friends .  .  .  friends who’ve died.

“They were in so much pain, they decided to go out with a bang.  They turned to alcohol.”

Branson, who said he also has a slipped disc and a neurological condition, said he was told a decade ago that he had about nine months to live.

He’s defied the odds, and he credits marijuana.  It lessens his pain and nausea, allowing him to handle the 11 pills he has to take each day, he said. 

Colorado is one of 14 states that allows marijuana to be used as medicine under tightly regulated conditions.

Patients must get a doctor’s recommendation and register with the state.

Then, they can grow up to six plants or more “if necessary,” as the law states.

“One doctor told me that either I get medical marijuana or I’m going to die,” Branson said.  “I took it upon myself to get it.”

Branson said he was unable to get a doctor’s recommendation, so he never registered.

Police say they found 14 plants in his backyard – each about 7 feet high – and a few more drying in a backyard shed.

This is believed to be only the second medical marijuana case in Colorado to go before a jury.

During jury selection, Branson’s attorney, Rob Corry, asked potential panelists whether they would get medical marijuana for loved ones who said they needed it.

All but one of them said they would without hesitation, although most said that they could decide the case on its legal merits.

In opening arguments, Deputy District Attorney Trevor Moritzky told the jury that it doesn’t matter if Branson was suffering.  What matters is whether he broke the law.

The first witness, Thornton police officer Mike Couture, said a passer-by along Thornton Parkway, glancing into the backyard in October 2004, alerted police to the marijuana.

He said Branson first told him the marijuana just started growing naturally.  But after police noted water lines to the plants, he admitted he was growing it for his own use.

Under cross-examination, Couture agreed with Corry that there were other plants in the backyard, such as pumpkins and squash and that Branson was forthcoming and didn’t act like a guilty person.

Former Thornton police officer Tonya Hayes said she took photos of what was apparently marijuana in baggies, in large plastic bags in the garage and in a medicine cabinet.  She also said Branson had a copy of High Times magazine and a weighing scale.

The trial is expected to last three more days.



When approved: November 2000 in a statewide vote

The process:

Patient must get a doctor’s recommendation that marijuana might help alleviate a condition or the pain that goes with it.

Patient must then apply to a confidential statewide registry – $110 fee.

If approved, patient gets a registry card allowing him or her to legally use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

If patient has a caregiver, that caregiver can assist.

Limit: Six plants, unless more are necessary.

1,458 currently on the registry

344 doctors have referred at least one patient

8 revocations of ID cards since 2001

Conditions that could qualify:



HIV-positive status

General weakness and debilitation from a chronic disease

Severe pain

Severe nausea

Seizures, including those that are characteristic of epilepsy

Persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosisSource: Colorado Department Of Public Health And Environment

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