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Published on September 14th, 2014 | by News Feed

Dying Man Faces Judge From His Wheelchair After Medical Marijuana Charges

As 48-year-old Benton Mackenzie sat grimacing in his wheelchair, Judge Henry Latham delivered the verdict. Mackenzie was visibly uncomfortable, grimacing from painful lesions caused by a rare form of cancer. Despite a terminal diagnosis, Mackenzie isn’t giving up hope.

After learning that he had Angiosarcoma seven years ago, he gathered the facts. Research pointed him to medical marijuana, but it is illegal in his home state of Iowa. Ignoring the laws in order to save his own life, the man began growing marijuana plants in a trailer behind the home he shares with his parents, wife, and son. But that same marijuana that was saving his life could now doom him to spend his remaining time in prison.

When police raided his home last year, they discovered 71 marijuana plants, growing equipment, and drug paraphernalia. Every family member faced criminal prosecution, although charges against his elderly parents were later dropped. But Mackenzie along with his wife and his son still had to face a judge to learn whether their time together would end in a courtroom or continue outside of the state prison walls.

As Judge Latham considered the case, he faced a difficult decision. How do you send a dying man to jail for simply trying to save his own life? Prosecutors had used two previous drug charges on the man’s record to paint him as a drug dealer. Latham pointed out that having 71 marijuana plants would be illegal even in states that do allow medical marijuana. But Mackenzie didn’t back down or apologize for his actions.

“I have lasted seven years on a disease that takes people who don’t get treated in two years. And people who go through the traditional methods, they last three years. So basically I have proven the decision I made was the right one, to save my life,” he told the judge.

After careful consideration, the judge ruled that Mackenzie would not go to prison, but would be placed on probation. His wife and son would also be released on probation to help him get appropriate medical care. However, Latham warned that if Mackenzie tested positive for marijuana at any point during his probation, he would have to go to jail. “You are a man with intelligence and passion. I hope you can put your efforts to a more constructive use than to continue to violate the laws of this state,” he said.

As the courtroom cleared, Mackenzie wheeled outside with a smile on his face. His freedom was a blessing and he knew that he had barely escaped dying behind bars. He told reporters that he wasn’t giving up on medical marijuana treatments. In fact, his next step would be to petition his probation officer to permission to go to Oregon for medical care so that he could legally receive the cannabis oil that had previously eased his pain and halted his terminal diagnosis.

“I hope this is the straw the breaks the camel’s back and brings some sanity to lawmakers’ decision-making process,” he said. “I hope I am the last person who has to go through this.”

Did the justice system fail this dying man or was he shown appropriate mercy in the courtroom? Should terminal patients ever face prosecution for using or growing marijuana?

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