On March 31, Erick Schmuckal was transported from a Broomfield courtroom to jail for violating probation -- by acting as a medical marijuana caregiver and patient, which he's licensed by the State of Colorado to do.
Schmuckal was originally sentenced to 120 days. But while he only served a little over three weeks, he describes the experience as miserable, in part because he says he wasn't given proper care for his medical conditions. Nonetheless, he isn't backing down. He's got not one but two separate court appearances slated for the coming months -- one to fight accusations that he oversaw an illegal marijuana grow, the other to appeal what he sees as his "unlawful incarceration."
On December 27, 2001, Schmuckal broke his back in a car accident, "and I've suffered from constant, chronic back pain since then," he says. Obviously, using medical marijuana to combat these symptoms wasn't possible in Broomfield County Jail, and he says his request for an extra mattress was rejected.
"My back hurt the whole time I was in there," he maintains. "I'd ask them for help, and they didn't do anything. I'm on Prozac and they wouldn't let me take my full dose. They lowered the dose and they took away this medication called Mobic that's for inflammation and pain in my back. They'd only give me Ibuprofen, and they said I couldn't take Mobic and Ibuprofen at the same time because I would get sick."
To make matters worse, "I broke my toe when I was in there, and they didn't let me see a doctor for a week," he notes. And they put all the misdemeanor people like me right up next to felons -- up there with people facing forty years for bank robbery and attempted murder and so on. It's kind of ridiculous. It seems like there should be some segregation between those hardened criminals and nonviolent people, because those are the same people who push you around and try to get your food and that kind of thing."
He was released on April 19 -- several days later than it should have been because of a paperwork snafu, he maintains. "My lawyer [Sean McAllister] actually had to come back from a vacation, track down the paperwork and send it to jail, so my mom and dad could get me out."
Despite his time in stir lasting considerably less than four months, he says a significant amount of damage was done in less than a week. Because he has a rare blood type, he regularly donates platelets to a hospital -- "but I can't do that for a year, because I spent more than 72 hours in the pokey."
And then there's what happened to his grow. "My place got gutted out by a friend of mine," he reveals. "He scared my employees and took all the plants. My mom reported to Broomfield police the plants and equipment being stolen and even told them who did it, yet they have done nothing. So now my business has been destroyed, too."
That's undoubtedly good news for Broomfield authorities, who have a particular jones for marijuana grows. The same day Schmuckal was taken to jail, the Broomfield Police Department announced its fourth major weed bust in a month and a half.
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Among that number was a February raid on Schmuckal's home. As reported by the Broomfield Enterprise, cops seized 152 plants -- far more than he could cultivate under the law, they said, because he had only two patients. Schmuckal counters that he was following the law, although he declines to go into detail, citing the upcoming court appearances.
At present, Schmuckal says, "I don't have any income. I'm broke. I don't have any way to start my business back up, and I'm thinking about going back on unemployment, so at least I can try to pay some child support." He has a two-year-old son; a domestic issue with his ex-wife resulted in him being placed on probation in the first place.
At this point, prosecutors give no indication that they'd be interested in offering Schmuckal a lesser sentence on the cultivation charge in exchange for a guilty plea. That's just as well, since he insists he wouldn't consider such a deal. "I was doing an honest job, a lawful job," he says. "When I started probation, it wasn't against the rules. It was no problem for the first seven months of my probation. Then a judge passed a rule, and I got a prescription for Marinol for my pain, so I could comply with them. But they didn't say you couldn't be a caregiver."
The cultivation case goes before a judge in June, with the unlawful incarceration hearing slated for July. Until then, Schmuckal remains concerned for patient Jarvis Shead, who suffers from cerebral palsy -- and who he hasn't been able to care for as he'd like. "He's the real tragedy out of all this," Schmuckal says. "He's the one who's on the front lines, suffering."