Iowa medical marijuana suspects no longer charged
Associated Press8:17 a.m. CDT July 18, 2014
(Photo: Kevin E. Schmidt AP)
DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — The parents of an Iowa man who says he grew marijuana to help treat his cancer no longer face charges.
On Wednesday a Scott County judge dismissed the cases filed against 75-year-old Dottie and 76-year-old Chuck Mackenzie. They were accused of hosting a drug house, which is a misdemeanor.
Their son, Benton Mackenzie and his wife, Loretta, were convicted on July 9 of manufacturing marijuana. He says he used oil from the pot to treat his cancer of the blood vessels.
A prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss the charges against the elder Mackenzies. It says they had no criminal history and didn’t actively participate in growing or using marijuana.
Dottie Mackenzie said Thursday that she thinks public pressure had a great deal to do with the charges being dropped.
Cancer patient says pot conviction a ‘death sentence’
Grant Rodgers, email@example.com:11 a.m. CDT July 10, 2014
(Photo: Grant Rodgers)
DAVENPORT, Ia. — A dying Iowan who claims he grew marijuana to treat a painful cancer faces a possible prison sentence after a conviction on drug charges Wednesday — a prospect he views as a “death sentence.”
Scott County jurors delivered a guilty verdict on four felony drug charges facing Benton Mackenzie, 48, whose wife and son were also convicted alongside him.
Mackenzie says he used the plants to extract cannabis oil to treat a painful grapefruit-sized tumor on his buttock caused by angiosarcoma, a rare, aggressive cancer.
Mackenzie’s case has drawn national attention at a time of increased debate over whether to legalize marijuana for medical use.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia allow use of marijuana to treat different diseases. This year, Iowa legislators passed a narrow medical marijuana bill allowing parents with epileptic children to use cannabis oil as treatment.
Because Iowa law does not allow use of marijuana to treat Mackenzie’s condition, Judge Henry Latham barred defense attorneys from saying he used marijuana out of medical necessity. That ruling further infuriated many Iowans who have reached out to support Mackenzie since his arrest. A “Free Benton Mackenzie” Facebook page had 1,797 “likes” on Wednesday afternoon.
Mackenzie believes the judge’s ruling sealed his fate with jurors who might have been more sympathetic had they learned about his condition.
“I’m still flabbergasted about how a judge can court-order me to not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” he said outside the courthouse after the verdict. “It’s an abomination of justice.”
Much about Mackenzie’s future will now be decided at an Aug. 28 sentencing hearing. Because of two earlier felony drug convictions, in 2000 and 2011, Mackenzie can be labeled a “habitual offender.”
That label would carry a three-year mandatory minimum sentence if Mackenzie is sentenced to prison, although probation could also be an option, said Scott County Attorney Mike Walton. Walton declined to talk about what sentence his office would recommend, but said prosecutors will take both Mackenzie’s failing health and his past crimes into consideration.
Lawmaker: This is why change is needed
The guilty verdict against Mackenzie highlights ongoing tension between advocates of expanded medical marijuana use and law enforcement officers who say they’re duty-bound to enforce current law.
Mackenzie’s legal battles should be a sign to Iowans angered by the verdict that more work should be done to change laws, said state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. Bolkcom has previously introduced legislation to allow medical marijuana and called the prosecution of Mackenzie and his family a “waste of taxpayer money.”
“This verdict really shows that we have work to do,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “There are many Iowans I’m guessing that are illegally using cannabis to address their medical conditions who could find themselves in the same predicament as Mr. Mackenzie for simply trying to improve their quality of life and treat a debilitating condition.”
Walton, however, said his office could not turn a blind eye to Mackenzie’s actions, especially given Mackenzie’s past drug-related convictions. Mackenzie and his wife, Loretta, 43, had previously been prosecuted for growing marijuana used for treatment. In 2011, they both pleaded guilty in Scott County to drug charges and were put on probation. Benton Mackenzie also had a drug conviction in 2000.
Though it’s unfortunate that Mackenzie’s health is deteriorating, Walton said Mackenzie knew he was breaking the law by growing marijuana. “The laws are not written in Scott County,” he said. “I don’t write the laws. I’m supposed to enforce them, and if people want the law to change, the law needs to change at the Statehouse for everybody, not at the courthouse on a case-by-case basis.”
Doctor: Do research on his treatment
Mackenzie said he first noticed the tumor on his buttock approximately six years ago, but it wasn’t until 2011 that he was diagnosed with angiosarcoma, his wife said. The cancer affects the lining of blood vessels. Mackenzie chose to treat himself with cannabis oil and by drinking fresh juice from marijuana plants instead of seeking chemotherapy.
Mackenzie said he worried that a traditional chemotherapy treatment would damage his heart. The tumor, which was the size of a golf ball, reduced to a “bump” within two months after he began treating it with cannabis, he said. Mackenzie has continued treatment using oil he gets in Oregon since his June 2013 arrest, but the oil is available only sporadically, and the tumor is now the size of a grapefruit.
Mackenzie and his family live with his parents on their property in Eldridge, just north of Davenport. Mackenzie admits he grew marijuana in a trailer and RV on the property. Law enforcement found 71 plants during a raid last year.
Mackenzie and his wife were charged with felony drug crimes. Their son, Cody, 22, was charged with possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. Marijuana and pipes were found in Cody Mackenzie’s bedroom, Walton said.
Benton Mackenzie’s parents, Charles and Dorothy Mackenzie, both in their 70s, were charged with felonies for allowing marijuana to grow on their property. They await trial later this month.
On Wednesday, however, Mackenzie said his family was not involved in helping grow the marijuana he used for treatment.
“I’m deeply concerned my whole family is in this position just for not deserting me while I’m dying, and this is how they’re repaid for their compassion.”
In prison, Mackenzie would not be able to get the cannabis oil he believes held his cancer at bay for a time. Benton Mackenzie said he is receiving hospice care and has come to grips with dying, just not behind bars.
“Being held down to die like this, that’s infuriating to me in a country where I supposedly have a right to my life,” he said.
Dr. Charles Goldman, a surgical oncologist at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, laments that Mackenzie’s self-treatment ended with prosecution instead of scientific research. Although Mackenzie’s claims that cannabis successfully reduced his tumor have not been scientifically verified, other research indicates that it’s reasonable the marijuana helped, he said.
“To me, it’s a shame that we’re not seeing his situation as a research opportunity to learn on an actual human being,” he said. “The fact of the matter is he’s alive four years after his diagnosis, and he was not treated with any chemotherapy.”