Federal Jury Convicts Pro-Cannabis Doctor

September 02, 2007

Fred Gardner, CounterPunch

After a 10-day trial, it took a federal jury in Sacramento less than three hours August 16 to find Marion "Mollie" Fry, MD, and her husband, attorney Dale Schafer, guilty of conspiracy to grow and distribute marijuana. Schafer was represented by Tony Serra, Fry by Lawrence Lichter. The lawyers' eloquence was no substitute for an admissible defense.

Schafer, 53, acknowledges that he grew cannabis -initially for his wife and himself, and then for some of her patients. He had intended to argue that he did so on the advice of counsel after a 1999 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made "medical necessity" a possible defense for marijuana distribution. But the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the 9th Circuit, and Judge Frank Damrell forbade Fry and Schafer from citing their once-possibly-valid belief that "medical necessity" justified marijuana production and sales.

Their only remaining hope was that a juror might disapprove of the war on drugs and vote not to convict on principle. Everyone in the jury pool who said they'd heard of California's medical marijuana law got dismissed. Seven women and five men were seated. Two were people of color. One was a paralegal employed by a public defender's office. The defendants and their well-wishers kept hoping, scanning faces for a glint of support.

Opening arguments hadn't concluded before Damrell instructed the jury that any references to "medical" anything were irrelevant under federal law. He also told them that -contrary to what the defendants were saying on Christine Craft's radio show- they absolutely had to abide by his instructions.

Your correspondent fantasized about making an opening statement, too:

What could possibly have possessed Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer, a successful doctor and lawyer, to grow marijuana and distribute it to her patients? Money isn't a plausible motive. They were successful professionals whose lifestyle was modest; they had no need to supplement their income. So how did they lose perspective and take this outrageous, absurd risk?

A belief in God.

Mollie Fry's office is in a town called Cool but she is the opposite of cool. She hugs you as if you were a most intimate friend and tells you everything she's feeling. She emotes and dramatizes. She cries readily and profusely. She talks about what God wants and what God might do. God is justice and justice must prevail. Her God talk and her marijuana talk are in the same key and intertwine; the sacred herb, the healing herb, she makes no distinction. She goes all the way. She goes too far. She opens up her home to people in need. She takes in strays. She's probably the most empathetic psychiatrist in California. She has suffered and she doesn't want to see other people suffer. In her 40s she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which had killed her mother, who was also a psychiatrist, in her 40s. Mollie had both breasts removed. She attributes her survival to God. If she was involved in distributing marijuana to patients it was in the same spirit that she issued them approvals -doing God's work, reducing human suffering. But the belief that she was doing God's work is literally delusional. Shouldn't a sincere belief in a just God qualify Fry and Schafer for an insanity defense?

Damrell put off sentencing until Nov. 26, for which the defendants were grateful. They both face five-year minimums. A key question is whether they'll be allowed to remain free on bail while they appeal their conviction.

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