Medical marijuana caregiver arrested

August 22, 2004

Scott Schwebke, Montrose Daily Press

MONTROSE - A 53-year-old man, who claims to be a registered caregiver for a medical marijuana patient, will make his first appearance Thursday in Montrose County Court on drug charges.

Montrose County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Michael Branson, who lives on Amber Road near Pea Green, on Wednesday after authorities allegedly found 22 pot plants in a garden on his property and another 13 ounces of packaged marijuana inside his residence, said Undersheriff Dick Denies.

The pot plants weighed about 100 pounds and would have been worth about $22,000 at maturity, Deines estimated.

Information regarding the value of the packaged marijuana allegedly found inside Branson's residence was not immediately available.

Delta County Sheriff's Office deputies spotted the pot plants in the garden while conducting an aerial surveillance operation for marijuana that might be growing in the area.

Branson was arrested on suspicion of cultivating marijuana. He has been released from the Montrose County Jail on $5,000 bond.

Before being placed in custody, Branson provided MCSO personnel with a state document that reportedly allows him to grow marijuana for medical purposes, according to an arrest affidavit.

Branson was arrested because the number of pot plants found on his property exceeded the six-plant limit allowed under the state's medical marijuana statute, the affidavit states.

Branson said in a phone interview that the document he gave to sheriff's office personnel is a state registration identification card allowing him as caregiver to grow marijuana for a 44-year-old Eckert area woman who has multiple sclerosis and is a registered medical marijuana patient.

Branson added that he had more pot plants on his property than allowed by the state because he is attempting to become a caregiver for another person and is also trying to become a registered medical marijuana patient himself to address chronic back pain and other physical problems.

Branson said he hasn't found a doctor to sign off on his medical marijuana registration application, but uses pot anyway because he can't afford prescription drugs.

'The government is not helping to pay for my prescriptions,' he said. 'I use it (marijuana). I haven't got my license yet, but I am working on it.'

There are currently 440 people in Colorado who have active registrations for the use of medical marijuana, according to Debra Tuenge, administrator of the state's Medical Marijuana Registry program.

The program was implemented in March 2001 following voter approval of Amendment 20.

The amendment authorizes the use of marijuana to alleviate certain debilitating medical conditions including, cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia; severe pain; severe nausea; seizures, epilepsy; persistent muscle spasms, and multiple sclerosis, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's web site. Patients and doctors may petition the state to include other medical conditions that may be alleviated by marijuana.

In order to receive a registry identification card from the state, a patient must obtain certification from a licensed Colorado physician that they have been diagnosed with a debilitating condition that may be alleviated by the medical use of marijuana.

Medical marijuana patients or caregivers who have been issued a registry identification card can possess no more than two ounces of useable marijuana and not more than six marijuana plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants. Medical marijuana patients must pay a $110 fee with each annual renewal application. The identifies of medical marijuana patients and caregivers are kept confidential by the state.

Contact Scott Schwebke via e-mail at scotts@montrosepress.com.



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