Photo by Mark
A dying Iowa man who grew marijuana to treat his terminal cancer was sentenced to probation Tuesday, avoiding up to 15 years in prison.
Benton Mackenzie, 48, who faced anywhere from three to 15 years in prison, was granted three years probation by District Judge Henry Latham after Mackenzie claimed he hoped to extract the plants’ oil to treat his angiosarcoma. Angiosarcoma is a rare form of cancer of the blood vessels which left Mackenzie with large skin lesions
Back in July, Mackenzie and his wife Loretta were convicted in an Iowa district court of marijuana manufacturing and conspiracy for growing 71 marijuana plants in a trailer outside Mackenzie’s home in eastern Iowa. In a 2013 raid of his home, local authorities seized all of the plants. Mackenzie said he had grown the plants to make cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound found naturally in cannabis that can provide substantial medical benefits while having the ability to actually counter the psychoactivity of THC.
While Mackenzie sat in his wheelchair in the courthouse, he defended this violation of the law, asserting that he was planning on using the CBD to treat his tumors. Latham forbad him from testifying about growing the cannabis to treat his cancer, as a medical necessity defense is not allowed in Iowa.
According to The Quad-City Times’ Brian Wellner, Mackenzie said he was threatened with jail time if he discussed his health condition in court. In addition, he feared if he was found guilty, he would not survive a prison sentence.
Latham chided Mackenzie for ignoring state law, noting that while Iowa does not permit medical marijuana, growing that many plants would not even be legal in the 23 states that currently allow the medicine.
However, the Iowa parents who convinced lawmakers to approve the use of cannabidiol for their children now say they can not foresee being able to actually obtain the medicine any time soon.
On May 30, Gov. Terry Branstad signed the Medical Cannabidiol Act into law, providing a small class of Iowa individuals with intractable epilepsy and their caregivers an affirmative defense to any state criminal charges ensuing out of their use of cannabidiol extract. These people are only allowed to obtain these extracts by traveling to medical marijuana states that permit non-resident qualified patients to visit approved dispensaries.
In a statement released this summer, the editorial board of The Des Moines Register denounced the change in law, saying that it “only benefits a small group of Iowans with the most organized lobbying efforts.” The board further asserted that other sick Iowans who suffer from debilitating diseases such as cancer, severe arthritis and spinal chord injuries should have legal access to marijuana instead of being considered criminals for obtaining cannabis oil.
On Tuesday, the judge also sentenced Loretta Mackenzie and his son, Cody, to probation. Cody, 23, was found guilty of possession of misdemeanor possession during the 2013 raid when Sheriff’s deputies found a small amount of marijuana in his room.
Loretta averred in court that her husband’s condition is getting “a lot worse.”
Ever since his conviction earlier this year, Mackenzie has been traveling to Oregon where medical marijuana is legal, to obtain the medicine. According to the Associated Press, Latham mentioned Mackenzie’s two prior drug convictions, warning him to stay “substance abuse”-free while on probation, or he could be facing jail time.
It is not clear how Mackenzie will go about treating his condition without the use of medical cannabis.
Mackenzie supporters assembled outside the courthouse before the ruling came down were relieved that Mackenzie beat jail time. However, the case has outraged medical marijuana advocates who believe that the Mackenzie family should have never been prosecuted.
While marijuana in any form remains illegal to the majority of Iowans, a recent poll found that 81 percent of Iowa voters said they would support medical marijuana for patients.
Do you live in a state that refuses to legalize medical cannabis? Let us know how you manage your condition in the comments below.