AIDS patient's pot trial delayed

April 03, 2007

Monte Whaley, Denver Post

Brighton - The trial of an AIDS patient accused of flaunting Colorado's medical-marijuana law was delayed Wednesday because of the unavailability of a key defense witness.

The attorney for Jack Branson, 39, wants Dr. Cynthia Firnhaber to testify that she verbally recommended in 2002 that Branson use medical marijuana. The drug helps Branson deal with nausea and loss of appetite caused by HIV.

But attorney Robert Corry said Wednesday that it's nearly impossible for Firnhaber to come to Colorado since she is working in South Africa fighting AIDS.

"We looked for months, and we were finally able to locate her," Corry told Adams County District Judge C. Scott Crabtree. "It's quite a hardship."

Corry asked that Firnhaber be allowed to testify by telephone. Crabtree set a July 20 hearing to decide and scheduled a Aug. 27 jury trial.

Branson faces charges of cultivation of marijuana and possession of more than 8 ounces of marijuana, both felonies.

Branson has lived with the virus that causes AIDS for 20 years, said his mother, Margaret Branson. He also has hepatitis B and a slipped disc in his back. The marijuana allows Branson to control his nausea so he can take medication needed for his survival, she said.

Under Colorado's medical- marijuana law, doctors can recommend marijuana for patients they believe would benefit from it. But Branson was not registered with the state as a medical-marijuana user when he was arrested in October 2004 after police found up to 12 marijuana plants in his backyard.

Colorado's law allows patients to have six plants. Branson has since registered with the state.

If convicted of a crime, Branson could lose his Medicaid or Social Security benefits.

Prosecutor Trevor Moritzky told Crabtree he is leery of any telephone testimony. "There is no way of knowing the person on the phone is the person they say they are," Moritzky said.

Adams County district attorney's spokesman Michael Goodbee said prosecutors will not seek prison time for Branson if he is convicted.

Still, Goodbee said, Colorado's medical-marijuana law - including provisions limiting the amount of pot - must be strictly followed.

"The voters passed the law with the idea that people would comply with all its provisions," Goodbee said. "We are simply seeking compliance."

Staff writer Monte Whaley can be reached at 720-929-0907 or mwhaley@denverpost.com.



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