Another Round in Colorado's Medical Marijuana Battle

July 29, 2004

KCNC, CBS 4 - Denver

DENVER - "Medical marijuana is nothing more than a smokescreen, an excuse for lifelong pot smokers to get high."

Those harsh words from the U.S. attorney in Denver are the latest salvo in the increasingly bitter battle over medical marijuana.

U.S. attorney John Suthers told News 4 investigator Brian Maass that no doctor in his right mind would prescribe medical marijuana.

In Colorado, hundreds of doctors have prescribed pot, but more and more medical marijuana patients are seeing their weed confiscated by federal agents. Patients like Dana May, who for every step, is a struggle, and every breath a strain.

May is one of almost 400 Coloradans legally approved to use medical marijuana. The father of three suffers acute pain in his feet and legs from a debilitating nerve disease.

"I tell people it's like putting my feet in a deep fryer," May said. "They burn so bad it's incredible, some days are better than others, and some days are not so good."

Colorado voters approved medical marijuana 4 years ago. But recently, a federal drug task force raided Dana May's Aurora home, confiscating his pot and growing supplies. Authorities never charged May, but the feds say they're not about to return his pot.

"I explained that I had a medical marijuana card and the feds said 'We don't care about that,'" May said.

"The DEA is not in the business of giving back drugs that are illegal under federal law," Suthers said.

In recent months, drug task forces have done the same to other medical marijuana users in Colorado -- confiscating pot and refusing to return it.

Suthers said federal agents are not targeting medical marijuana users. But he said that once agents find marijuana, they won't give it back. That's because, unlike state law, federal law doesn't recognize marijuana as having medicinal value.

"Unless the law changes, I think it's unlikely the DEA will give back a substance that's in violation of federal law," Suthers said.

Suthers is highly critical of the more than 200 Colorado doctors who prescribe medical marijuana.

"No doctor in his right mind would prescribe a medicine that is ingested by smoking," Suthers said.

That's news to May's doctor Dr. Lynn Parry, who says marijuana is cheaper and more effective than other pain medications.

"Marijuana is the only thing I have found for him that will control the pain without putting him at risk," Parry said.

The U.S. attorney doesn't buy it, and Suthers contends that May and others like him want medical marijuana for one simple reason ... "because they like to smoke marijuana ... they have been long time marijuana users, and they like to smoke marijuana."

May said that with his marijuana gone, all he has left is the pain.

The U.S. Supreme Court is planning to hear a medical marijuana case during the court's fall term deciding on whether state or federal law takes precedence when it comes to medical marijuana.

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