Couple who claim use of medical pot to face trial

January 05, 2007

Laura Bailey, The Coloradoan

A Fort Collins couple who say they were growing marijuana for medical use pleaded not guilty Friday to felony cultivation and distribution charges.

James and Lisa Masters are now set to go to trial March 27. They face up to six years in jail.

The Masters were arrested Aug. 2, 2006, when police were called to check the welfare of the couple's two children, ages 4 and 6, according to an affidavit from Fort Collins police.

The officer smelled marijuana in the house, and the couple told the officers they had a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana and they were growing it for that purpose.

At a press conference following the Masters' arraignment, the couple's lawyer, Rob Corry, said they were within the bounds of Amendment 20, a Colorado initiative approved by voters in 2000 that allows people with certain debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS and severe pain and nausea, to grow, possess and use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"The majority of voters in this state said medical marijuana should be available. My hope here is the jury will follow the law and show some compassion for patients who need help," Corry said.

The couple face separation from their two girls if they're convicted and required to serve jail time. The girls were taken away for eight weeks after the Masters' arrests but have since been returned to their parents.

"I hope (people) realize that to split a family apart because of marijuana, which is so obviously less destructive than alcohol, is absolutely wrong," James Masters said.

Masters, 29, said he has a condition that causes chronic nausea and muscle spasms. Masters, a student at Front Range Community College, said he cannot work because of his condition. He will not reveal the exact condition until the trial so it doesn't influence a jury pool, Corry said. Lisa Masters, 31, said she suffers from joint swelling, muscle spasms, carpal tunnel syndrome and protruding disks.

The couple said they grew marijuana solely for themselves and patients on Colorado's medical marijuana registry, which is maintained by the state's Department of Health and Environment.

However, in October, District Judge Jolene Blair rejected a dismissal motion, saying the couple didn't have the required state documentation showing they are caregivers for people authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Corry said that, while the Masters did not have a state registry card for caregivers, they were designated as such by registered patients who had doctors' recommendations for marijuana use.

Corry said Amendment 20 does not require the state to issue caregiver cards and that the patient's verbal designation of a caregiver is sufficient.

While representatives with the Medical Marijuana Registry program where not available for comment, Ron Hyman, the Colorado registrar of vital statistics, told the Coloradoan in October that in order for someone to be named as a caregiver, the patient must list that person as such on the registry.

Corry and co-counsel Brian Vicente said the Masters are the first in the state to use Amendment 20 and the caregiver defense.

"This test case has the potential to increase vital access to medical marijuana by expanding the legal definition of 'caregiver' to allow those with significant responsibility for the care of seriously-ill individuals to cultivate and provide them with medical marijuana," Vicente said.

According to Colorado's Department of Health and Environment's Web site, the law allows patients or primary caregivers to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and six plants as long as they have a Medical Marijuana Registry identification card.

Since the registry began in 2001, a total of 1,513 patients have applied and only seven have been denied.

Severe pain is listed for 78 percent of all requests with muscle spasms being the second most listed condition at 34 percent.


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