Jean and Steve Marlowe

In 2008, I agreed to represent Polk County NC activist Steve Marlowe, who faced charges for growing of medical cannabis for his former wife and fellow activist Jean Marlowe and two other patients.  It was another one of those supposedly once-in-a-lifetime cases that have come my way.

This case wasn’t the Marlowes’ first brush with the law prohibiting marijuana.  In fact, the Marlowes had been outspoken proponents of cannabis law reform for many years when I met them.  In 1995, they held a “Freedom Rally” on the steps of the courthouse in Columbus NC, where police were said to have outnumbered the participants. During his speech, Steve lit and consumed a cannabis cigarette, and the police arrested him, shortly after he came offstage.  At his trial for possession of marijuana, the State could produce no physical evidence, and the jury found him not guilty.

But what really got the Marlowes started on the path toward anti-prohibition advocacy was Jean’s discovery in the late 1980s that cannabis was the only medicine she could take, and would need, for the myriad of medical problems she faced, including chronic neuropathic pain and porphyria of the liver.  Jean’s story is well told through a series of videos posted on YouTube, including testimony from her doctor, family and friends, and a collection of some of the news stories her efforts have generated.  Under close supervision by her doctor, Jean treated her maladies with whole plant cannabis therapy.  Presented with the documentation of that therapy, the US Social Security Administration wrote to Jean in 1996 approving her use of cannabis.

That letter from Social Security buoyed the Marlowes’ hope that Jean would be allowed to use her medicine in peace, and that others in similar situations would, too, and led Jean to consent to a TV news story about the government’s acknowledgement that cannabis was keeping her alive.  In the piece, she was shown sitting on her couch at home, consuming her medicine.  Three days later, the sheriff executed a search warrant, and arrested Jean, though the District Attorney declined to prosecute the matter.

By this point, both Jean and Steve Marlowe had been arrested for their activism against the cannabis prohibition, but neither had been convicted of anything.  Thus, the question of whether Jean would be able to use her medicine in Polk County was fairly well settled.  You might even could say that, since he’d gotten away with it before, Steve could smoke a joint on the courthouse steps, so long as he swallowed the roach.  But the question of where Jean could acquire her medicine was not settled at all.

In search of a stable reliable source for clean medical-grade cannabis, Jean traveled to Switzerland, where medical cannabis was being grown legally and mailed to patients worldwide, under the belief that UN treaties allowed up to a three-month supply of medicine to be transported that way.  The company with whom Jean met had mailed dozens of packages of cannabis to other patients in the US, without any problem.  A package they mailed to Jean, however, was intercepted by the authorities.

She was prosecuted federally this time, with charges carrying lengthy mandatory minimum sentences.  Over her doctor’s objections and pleading, she was incarcerated until her trial, at which US District Judge Lacy Thornburg refused to allow her to assert a medical necessity defense, or to present any of her voluminous medical evidence to the jury, which guaranteed her conviction.  Judge Thornburg did show compassion for Jean in sentencing, departing downward from the mandatory minimum jail terms to a probationary sentence.  Unfortunately, the terms of probation forbid the use of cannabis for any purpose, and Jean was sent to the federal prison in Alderson, West Virginia for 10 months for refusing to cease the only therapy capable of being effective for her.

The time in prison away from her medicine and even conventional Western medical treatment nearly proved fatal for Jean.  But somehow, with the support of her loved ones, she survived, and came back home, neither chastened nor repentant.  Jean came home ready to fight.  Telling her own powerful personal story, and sharing the knowledge she’d gained over years of study of the power of cannabis, she traveled all over the country organizing and protesting and lobbying and advocating for her rights and rights of other patients to safe access to the safest medicine on Earth.

The strain of Jean’s involvement in the movement proved too much for her marriage to Steve, who though still outspoken as ever, was more content to stay at home and enjoy the freedom he felt in his Appalachian paradise.  They amicably divorced and remain the closest of friends.  So close in fact, that in the fall of 2007, Steve was serving as Jean’s caregiver when the police raided his home and discovered the garden in his basement.

Because I believe in their cause, and the Marlowes’ sacrifice and unselfish dedication to that cause, I handled Steve’s case pro bono.  The facts were set up perfectly for success.  The police could have walked up to Steve’s door and asked him if he was growing marijuana, and he’d have let them in and given them a tour.  But they chose instead to browbeat their favorite stool pigeon into signing a false affidavit saying he’d seen six foot plants in Steve’s bedroom.  The reluctant informant, who hadn’t been in Steve’s house for 10 years or more, felt so bad about what the police had forced him to do that he called Steve to apologize, and agreed to be video-taped recanting his statement.

At the suppression hearing, the informant made for a particularly bad witness, and neither of the officers who’d procured the warrant came across any better.  The Superior Court judge found that the officers had knowingly used false testimony in their search warrant applications, and granted my motion to suppress all of the evidence against Mr. Marlowe.  The District Attorney then dropped all the charges and ordered the Sheriff to return all of Mr. Marlowe’s growing equipment to him.

The courage shown by the Marlowes and other patients and caregivers convinced me to become more active in organizing the movement for safe access to medical cannabis in North Carolina. I helped Jean form the North Carolina chapter of Americans For Safe Access, as well as the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network, of which I served as secretary and treasurer. The cause eventually led me to Raleigh, where at the behest of several North Carolina lawmakers, I drafted a bill entitled the “North Carolina Medical Marijuana Act”, which was introduced into the NC General Assembly in 2009 as HB 1380, with Rep. Earl Jones as primary sponsor.