Friends rally for sick man charged with pot possession

August 23, 2007

, Associated Press

BRIGHTON — Pro-medical-marijuana advocates rallied Monday for a Thornton man who has AIDS and Hepatitis B, but didn't register with the state to grow the pot he says keeps him alive.

Jack Branson, 39, faces up to 12 years in prison, charged with cultivating and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute.

Before opening statements in his trial at the Adams County Justice Center, Branson said that without marijuana, "I would have gone the way of a lot of my friends ... friends who've died.

"They were in so much pain, they decided to go out with a bang. They turned to alcohol."

Branson, who also has a slipped disc and a neurological condition, said he was told a decade ago that he had about nine months to live.

He's defied the odds, and he credits marijuana. It lessens his chronic pain and lowers his nausea, allows him to handle the 11 pills he has to take each day, he said.

Colorado is one of 14 states that allows marijuana to be used as medicine under tightly regulated conditions.

Patients must get a doctor's recommendation and register with the state.

Then, they can grow up to six plants or more "if necessary," as the law states.

"One doctor told me that either I get medical marijuana or I'm going to die," Branson said.

"I took it upon myself to get it."

Branson said he tried to get a doctor's recommendation, but couldn't, so he never registered.

Police say they found 14 plants in his backyard — each about seven feet high — and a few more drying in a backyard shed.

This is believed to be only the second medical marijuana case in Colorado to come before a jury.

During jury selection, Branson's attorney, Rob Corry asked potential panelists whether they would get medical marijuana for loved ones who said they desperately needed it.

All but one of them said they would without hesitation, though most added that they could decide the case on its legal merits.

In opening arguments, deputy District Attorney Trevor Moritzky told the jury that it doesn't matter if Branson was suffering. What matters is whether he broke the law.

The first witness, Thornton police officer Mike Couture, said a passerby along Thornton Parkway, glancing into the backyard in October 2004, alerted police to the marijuana.

He said Branson first told him the marijuana just started growing naturally, but after police noted water lines to the plants, he admitted he was growing it for his own use.

Under cross examination, Couture agreed with Corry that there were other plants in the backyard, such as pumpkins and squash, and that Branson was forthcoming and didn't act like a guilty person.

Former Thornton police officer Tonya Hayes said she took photos of what was apparently marijuana in baggies, in large plastic bags in the garage and in a medicine cabinet. She also said Branson had a copy of "High Times" magazine and a weighing scale.

The trial is expected to last three more days.

scanlonb@RockyMountainNews.com



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