creators.com opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
diane dimond
Diane Dimond
19 Apr 2014
The For-Hire Soldiers in the Fight for Justice

Time for a word about private investigators. TV dramas of the past left the impression that the primary … Read More.

12 Apr 2014
US Prison System Needs a Total Makeover

It is way past time to overhaul the U.S. prison system. I'm not talking about a little tweak here and there. I'… Read More.

5 Apr 2014
Pets Help Solve Crimes

As far as crime laboratories go, it is not very impressive-looking. And it is not very big, with a permanent … Read More.

Medicinal Marijuana Laws on Trial

Comment

In November 2007, Steele Smith and his wife Theresa were arrested by federal DEA agents in Orange County, Calif., for cultivating and selling marijuana. But the Smiths aren't your run-of-the-mill drug dealers, and the federal government has left them in legal limbo ever since.

The back story: In the summer of 2001, Steele was a successful self-employed marketing man who was felled by a gut-wrenching mystery illness. He couldn't eat and quickly dropped 40 pounds from his already thin 6 foot, 7 inch frame. His doctors were stymied about what caused the debilitating condition.

After four excruciating months, a rare-disease specialist diagnosed a condition called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which pockmarks a victim's upper gastrointestinal tract with multiple painful ulcers. Morphine was prescribed for Steele's constant pain, and he lived in that legally induced drug-dependant state for the next three years, eventually becoming an opiate addict.

In the summer of 2004, his devoted wife guided him on a journey toward detox. "It was either going to kill him or me," Theresa told me. "I was black and blue from his outbursts. He couldn't help it, of course, but something had to be done!"

It was an agonizing time, but Steele finally found the strength to wean off morphine. But Z-E is a lifelong affliction, and he was still hobbled by the lack of nourishment and the incapacitating pain. The Smiths desperate search for alternatives brought them to information about the benefits of medicinal marijuana, made legal in California in 1996. The Smiths sought and got a prescription for Steele, and they were directed to dispensaries in Los Angeles, an hour drive away.

"All we found were drug-dealer types. They were all long-haired, tattooed ... basically drug dealers who got a store front — intimidating, like your typical head-shop," Theresa explained.

But miraculously, the medicinal marijuana worked! For the first time in years, Steele was able to eat and manage his pain. His marketing ideas flowed again, and the couple decided to fill the void in Orange County and open their own medicinal marijuana dispensaries to bring relief to others. Their lawyer says they did everything right under California law.

"Mr. Smith set up a legitimate 501 nonprofit corporation, and he paid all applicable taxes," a legal brief written by Smith's attorney, Eric Shevin, asserts. "He issued patient ID cards, followed pharmacy labeling requirements. He even provided free medical equipment to his customers, like wheelchairs, walkers, porta-potties and wheelchair racks for cars. Mr. Smith allowed the Fullerton Police to document his grow operation thoroughly ...

and the lead officer even complimented him on the cleanliness and legitimacy of the operation." By 2006, more than 1,000 patients were registered in the Smith's database.

So why were the Smiths arrested and threatened with 10 years in prison? Because back then the U.S. Justice Department decided that the federal law against cultivating marijuana should trump the California law. The Smiths were caught up in a classic battle of a state's right to pass its own laws.

Theresa spent two months behind bars. The ailing Steele was held in a maximum-security jail for 10 months. Upon release, he was 20 pounds lighter and again hooked on narcotics given to him for pain.

The Smiths lost everything, including their home, cars and savings, and they had to borrow money from Theresa's widowed mother, who died a short time later. They've lived under a terrible cloud of legal uncertainty for three years, all the while still grappling with Steele's disease.

Today's Justice Department looks at the states' rights issue differently, and the Smiths' trial will surely be a landmark case closely watched by the 15 states that currently allow cultivation and sale of medicinal marijuana. It will be a milestone verdict because federal Judge Cormac J. Carney has made the unprecedented decision to allow a federal jury — for the first time ever — to hear affirmative testimony about California's medicinal marijuana law.

This won't just be about someone having been caught growing pot. The Smiths will be allowed to give groundbreaking testimony about why their interpretation of the state's law led them to believe they were acting legally.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama told an interviewer, "I think the basic concept (of) using medical marijuana in the same way, with the same controls as other drugs, prescribed by doctors (is) entirely appropriate." Fourteen months ago, President Obama's Justice Department instructed all federal prosecutors not to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they followed state laws.

So now, the feds are left squarely between a rock and a hard place with their 3-year-old case against the Smiths.

Perhaps because Carney has a track record of ruling against prosecutors whom he sees as overstepping their authority, the feds decided late last week to ask for yet another delay in the Dec. 21 trial, postponing it until late March 2011.

"It's the 11th or 12th delay," Theresa Smith said in a weary voice. She sees the fight as a states' rights issue but also, she says, "as a patient's issue. If it was meth or heroin or some opiate, I wouldn't say that. But this is a plant that God put here for a reason. It helps people — so many people."

Diane Dimond's new book, "Cirque Du Salahi — Be Careful Who You Trust," can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com. Visit Diane Dimond's official website at www.dianedimond.com for investigative reporting, polls and more. To find out more about Diane Dimond and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM



Comments

1 Comments | Post Comment
My son, in his 30's, suffered from Zollinger-Ellison syndrome for 8 years before it was diagnosed. For years he was given every anti-acid drug out there, to the point of his suffering from every side-effect in the book.
In his case, it turned out to be a tumor on the pancreas that was triggering the excess stomach acid that was eating up his digestive system. Fortunately, the tumor was self-contained and successfully removed, and he has been completely OK since. It was very difficult to get it properly diagnosed and a treatment plan set up. He had to do a lot of the basic research himself and pressure his doctors to follow up on his research. I suspect that a lot of severe gastric distress is undiagnosed Z-E. The story of Mr Smith doesn't mention any followup into the cause of the Z-E.
Comment: #1
Posted by: partsmom
Sat Dec 18, 2010 3:23 PM
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right:  
Creators.com comments policy
More
Diane Dimond
Apr. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
30 31 1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 1 2 3
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Ray Hanania
Ray HananiaUpdated 24 Apr 2014
Timothy Spangler
Timothy SpanglerUpdated 24 Apr 2014
Jill Lawrence
Jill LawrenceUpdated 24 Apr 2014

21 Jan 2012 The Police Property Room

19 Mar 2011 Tragedies Spawn Crime

10 Dec 2011 Beware the Online Holiday Scams