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Jack Duke accused of teaching daughters, age 6 and 7, to smoke marijuana: Could face 36+ years

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Advocates of cannabis legalization like Eva Enns of the Women's Marijuana Movement emphasize that the substance should be kept away from children. But apparently Jack Duke, a 27-year-old Grand Junction resident, didn't get the memo.

Duke's been arrested on suspicion of teaching two of his daughters, ages six and seven, how to smoke pot -- and because of previous convictions and a new get-tough law, this alleged act of very bad parenting could earn him a minimum of 36 years behind bars.

The arrest warrant for Duke that's on view below features redactions in regard to the children's names, addresses and phone numbers -- but it still manages to tell a startling tale.

On September 24, the document says a detective was contacted by staffers at Nisley Elementary in Grand Junction after a six-year-old girl "was caught in the bathroom of the school attempting to start a fire with a Bic lighter and a wad of toilet paper." Afterward, the girl told administrators "that when she doesn't feel good, she smokes 'weed' with her dad, and her dad blows the smoke in her face." She then went on to demonstrate the proper breathing and hand-waving technique to get the maximum jolt, adding that she "doesn't like to smoke the seeds."

The girl also drew pictures, including one of a figure identified as her dad holding a pipe and a bag.

In a subsequent interview, Duke's wife, Laura, admitted that she and her husband smoked marijuana, but denied supplying it to their kids; they have four, ranging from nineteen months to seven years. She then consented to a search of the home, which is described in the warrant as slovenly in the extreme: dirty clothing piled on the couch, soiled diapers on the floor near a toilet and "a large, approximately five to six foot long snake" -- identified as a boa constrictor -- in a cage next to the bed in the children's room."

Also located: a small bag of marijuana, a couple of bongs and more paraphernalia, all accessible to the children, who have been placed in the custody of their grandparents. Hair and urine samples were obtained from the six- and seven-year old under a search warrant signed by a local judge, and while toxicology reports aren't back yet, Duke allegedly told investigators he expects they'll come back "hot."

But he didn't say this right away.

According to the arrest warrant, Duke admitted to using marijuana because it helps prevent him from "flipping out on people" and cope with issues like Laura's recent rape and the death of his grandfather. He claimed to have first smoked marijuana when he was four-years old, and although he isn't a medical marijuana card holder, because "he cannot get a doctor's recommendation," he reportedly told an investigator that he believes the substance has medical qualities that helped him do better in school and assisted him in "getting out of special ed."

Nonetheless, he initially denied giving his two older daughters marijuana -- although he said he would "allow his kids to make the choice on whether or not they wanted to smoke marijuana" if the substance was legalized.

Later, however, Duke allegedly "admitted that he had allowed his daughter to smoke marijuana because she was 'puking" -- and that he'd done so on other occasions for both of his older daughters over the previous two years. In regard to the six-year old, Duke said he loaded his pipe for her and helped her when lighting it, "as she had problems manipulating the lighter and the pipe."

This narrative is accompanied by a list of eight counts -- two involving distribution of marijuana to a child under fifteen, two for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and two involving child abuse or neglect without injury, plus possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. And the potential penalties if he's convicted could really add up fast.

That's the word from Mesa County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, who notes that Duke is the first person in his jurisdiction who'll be charged under the dictates of HB 1352, a new measure signed by Governor Bill Ritter in May that went into effect on August 11. The law reduces penalties for some drug-related offenses, but boosts them for anyone supplying marijuana to someone under age fifteen.

"The charge itself is a non-extraordinary risk class 3 felony, with a sentence of four-to-twelve years," Rubinstein explains. "It can go to 24 years with extraordinary aggravating circumstances, and it also requires a mandatory prison sentence."

Rubinstein adds that Duke has two prior convictions -- "a second-degree sexual assault out of Utah in 2004 and a first-degree trespass of an auto out of Colorado in 2001," he says. "And there's also a pending 2009 failure to register as a sex offender."

As such, Duke may well be dubbed a habitual criminal when Mesa County issues formal charges on October 12. If this decision is made, Rubinstein notes, "it would be a mandatory 36 year sentence for each count -- and depending on whether or not we file charges on him distributing to each of the two different children on different occasions, those sentences could run concurrently or consecutively."

In the meantime, Duke remains behind bars on a whopping $500,000 bond, the size of which suggests the judge's opinion about the alleged offenses.

As for Rubinstein, he sees some of Duke's comments in the arrest affidavit as indicative of worrisome attitudes about marijuana in general that he feels have been exacerbated by the rise of medical marijuana.

"One of the main concerns we've had about the medical marijuana push is the manner in which it's come about," he says. "The medicinal use of it has become a farce. It's frequently not being used for medicinal purposes, and that's led to the social norming of marijuana.

"The allegations don't allege that Mr. Duke was in lawful possession of marijuana. He does not have a medical marijuana card, but he did express to law enforcement his belief that he was using it for medicinal purposes -- that it helps him handle things -- and that he thinks it should be legal. And he also made statements in the affidavit that he was giving it to his kids for that purpose. But even though anything that has intoxicating effects, alcohol included, will make you feel better, that doesn't mean it's medicinal."

Page down to read the arrest affidavit.

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