Damien LaGoy, R.I.P.: Medical marijuana patient and activist dies at 53

We've just learned about the death of Damien LaGoy, who became one of the most public advocates for medical marijuana patients like himself.

Opponents of medical marijuana tend to characterize MMJ patients as twenty-something slackers who merely want an excuse to get high, but LaGoy contradicted that image. He had AIDS and was in ill health for years before finally succumbing on Saturday at age 53. Look below for excerpts from our previous interviews with LaGoy, as well as a tribute from an Amendment 64 proponent.

As noted by Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente in a memorial seen in its entirety below, LaGoy was part of successful suits against the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over a five-patient limit for MMJ caregivers, as well as another caregiver-related complaint in 2009 -- and he made news for challenging a marijuana arrest after Denver residents voted to remove possession penalties circa 2005.

Westword spoke with LaGoy many times over the years. Back in October 2010, for example, he weighed in about a Colorado Board of Health decision to eliminate fees for indigent patients. Unfortunately, LeGoy said, the criteria used to determine indigency left out many people in need, including him.

When he spoke to the board, he told us, "I couldn't talk very long. I've been very sick, so I was out of breath, I was exhausted; I just wanted to be in bed. So I got up there and the adrenaline started rushing -- and I said the wrong amount of money I get each month."

The total he mentioned, $917 per month, was $14 above the amount that would have qualified him as indigent. And while the actual sum was $719, he was still excluded due to another technicality. "They're going to grant a fee waiver for people who are on SSI -- Supplemental Security Income -- or food assistance," he maintained. "And I'm on SSDI -- Social Security Disability Insurance -- and I make too much to get food stamps. So I can't get a waiver."

Given that LaGoy's license expired two days from the date of our conversation, he said, "This may be my last interview."

Fortunately, he was wrong; he lived to fight for many more days. In July 2011, for instance, he signed on to lawsuit against Colorado's medical marijuana laws.

"They've really gone against the constitution with this whole system of laws," he said. "And one thing that really worries me is the idea of videotaping all transactions. My dispensary is in a very public place, and my face is out there. I weight 100 pounds and I stand five-eight -- and I've been mugged before. It's not pleasant: My jaw was broken and took eight or nine weeks to heal, and I don't need to lose any more weight. And with this whole system basically putting me on display, well, the entire scenario is very upsetting."

He added that medical marijuana helped increase his appetite and settle the nausea that came with his condition.

"I can't always afford to go to my dispensary," he acknowledged, noting that his original caregiver's case of muscular dystrophy had advanced to the point where he could no longer bend over and care for plants. "So sometimes I have to go to old street sources -- and there's a real difference. Even my roommate noticed that when I smoke the street stuff, it helps the nausea, but it doesn't do anything for my appetite. But when I smoke the medical stuff, I attack the refrigerator.

"When you have an attack at four o'clock in the morning, and you start throwing up and can't stop, you feel so helpless and alone. You just want to close your eyes and go to sleep. And medical marijuana is the only thing that helps."

Our condolences to LaGoy's friends, family and loved ones, as well as those for whom he advocated.

Continue to read a remembrance of Damien LaGoy by Amendment 64 proponent Brian Vicente, plus two past TV appearances. Statement about Damien LaGoy from Brian Vicente:

Denver AIDS Patient Whose Lawsuits Opened the Door for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Colorado Dies at 53

David "Damien" LaGoy's successful lawsuits against the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lifted the five-patient limit on medical marijuana caregivers in 2007 and excessive restrictions on caregivers in 2009

LaGoy was one of the first Denver residents to challenge a marijuana arrest following the passage of a 2005 citywide ballot initiative to remove all penalties for possession

DENVER -- David "Damien" LaGoy, the Denver AIDS patient whose successful lawsuits against the state health department opened the door for Colorado's medical marijuana dispensary system, died Saturday at the age of 53. LaGoy, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1986 and Hepatitis C in 1998, used medical marijuana to relieve extreme nausea and stimulate appetite.

In 2007, Sensible Colorado sued the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) on his behalf, asserting that the state's limit on the number of patients a medical marijuana caregiver could assist (5) was arbitrarily denying seriously ill patients such as him from accessing medical marijuana. A Denver district court judge overturned the policy, allowing caregivers to help as many patients as they felt appropriate, which largely contributed to the emergence of Colorado's storefront dispensary model. In 2009, Sensible Colorado sued the CDPHE again on LaGoy's behalf after it passed "emergency" restrictions on medical marijuana caregivers in an effort to limit their power. The court ruled in LaGoy's favor and blasted the state for attempting to restrict seriously ill patients' access to medical marijuana.

"Through these highly-publicized cases and his unwavering tenacity in speaking out on the then stigma-laden topic of medical marijuana, Damien played a dramatic role in shaping the landscape of Colorado marijuana policy," said Sensible Colorado executive director Brian Vicente, who served as LaGoy's attorney. "He was a principled advocate who fought for justice not only for himself, but for all medical marijuana patients suffering from serious illnesses."

LaGoy first entered the media spotlight in 2006, when he became one of the first Denver residents to challenge a marijuana possession arrest following the passage of a 2005 citywide ballot initiative (Initiated Question 100) that amended city ordinances to remove all penalties for private adult marijuana possession. The charges were ultimately dropped following multiple appearances in court.

"He was a friend, he was a freedom fighter, and he changed Colorado forever," Vicente said. "He will be missed."

LaGoy was born in Rochester, N.Y., on September 11, 1959. He spent most of his life living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Denver. In 2012, he received the first-ever "Lifetime Achievement Award" from Sensible Colorado.

A 7News report featuring LaGoy.

A CBS4 report in which LaGoy appears.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana lawsuit: Why AIDS patient Damien LaGoy signed on."

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