Veteran using medical pot fights arrest

June 14, 2007

Carlos Illescas, Denver Post

A Desert Storm veteran is challenging the state's medical-marijuana law after he was arrested on charges of growing 71 of the plants in his basement.

Kevin Dickes says he needs the marijuana to help him with the pain he has suffered daily since a grenade landed next to him in Kuwait when he served there as a Marine in 1991. He has no feeling below his right calf and suffers from chronic vascular disease. Dickes said he may lose part of his right leg.

"I use it for the pain. It helps me tremendously," Dickes said Thursday in Arapahoe County District Court after pleading not guilty to marijuana cultivation, a Class 4 felony.

Dickes, 38, faces up to six years in prison if convicted of the charge. His attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the cultivation charge. That matter will be discussed at a hearing next month.

Under Colorado's medical-marijuana law, approved by voters in 2001, patients under a doctor's care who get a medical-marijuana card, as Dickes did, can have up to 2 ounces of pot or six plants.

But there is a provision in the law called an affirmative defense that could allow for more plants. That issue is decided at trial.

"In general, what happens is the individual has testimony from a physician that their particular condition warrants the additional amounts," said Ron Hyman, registrar of vital statistics for the state health department. "Whether the judge buys it or not is up to the judge."

Hyman did not know whether that defense has been successful in other cases, but only one medical-marijuana case has even gone to trial, a case out of Gunnison last year in which a man was acquitted.

Police swarmed Dickes' Aurora home on April 27 on a tip from a neighbor. About three or four SWAT officers opened his door and threw him to the ground and pointed their guns directly at him, Dickes recalled.

"They took me down in my own home," said Dickes, who is out on bail. "They had guns to my face. I never had that happen to me before, not even in Desert Storm."

Dickes did not immediately show police his medical-marijuana card. His common-law wife came home while Dickes was in custody in a police car and then pointed out the card.

In addition to the plants, police seized grow lights, fans, electrical timers and a watering system.

The district attorney's office waited several weeks before filing charges. District attorney's spokeswoman Kathleen Walsh said officials cannot discuss the case because it is ongoing. But she did say the DA's office believes there is enough evidence to move forward in the case.

Defense Attorney Rob Corry said many more marijuana plants than six are needed to get enough of them to bloom and provide the needed medication. Some plants don't produce buds or don't grow enough roots to provide any useful marijuana to smoke, he said.

"Most of the plants were tiny, tiny starter plants with no roots," Corry said.

Dickes got his medical-marijuana card in March, and it is good for one year. About 1,300 people have medical-marijuana cards in Colorado, according to the state.

Before he got his card, Dickes said he took prescription painkillers, but those had side effects and were addictive, he said. Now, Dickes said, he is getting his medical marijuana on the "black market" until his case is decided.

He added: "I feel I've done nothing wrong."

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