Medical marijuana: Is cancer patient Bob Crouse being prosecuted over paperwork snafu?

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Bob Crouse is a longtime Colorado Springs restaurateur -- the eatery Yakibob's is a local staple -- as well as a cancer patient who uses medical marijuana. But he could also become a convicted felon. He currently faces criminal charges related to cultivation and distribution for exceeding the state's plant limit, even though his doctor recommended a higher count -- one the state didn't approve because of what he describes as a minor technical error on a form.

Crouse, 63, has lymphocytic leukemia that's currently in the chronic, rather than acute, stage -- a period during which oncologists typically monitor the disease, as opposed to bombarding it with radiation and chemicals. But that doesn't mean he's symptom-free. He says the condition -- which was discovered four years ago via a blood test administered after he fell from a ladder, breaking several ribs and puncturing a lung in the process -- causes varying degrees of pain throughout his body, but especially in his neck and shoulder area. In addition, he suffers from stress, anxiety and sleep disorders.

Medical marijuana provided him with the most consistent and effective relief of any therapy he tried; he's a registered patient. But as he conducted additional research into the plant, he discovered Phoenix Tears, a cannabis oil treatment associated with Rick Simpson that fellow cancer patient Larry Shurtleff credits with eradicating a tumor that caused him to lose an eye and all his teeth. This week, Shurtleff underwent successful facial reconstruction surgery after being diagnosed cancer-free.

In order to make his own Phoenix Tears, Crouse needed more plants than the six okayed per patient by Amendment 20, the measure that legalized medical marijuana in Colorado. However, this number can be exceeded if a doctor believes more marijuana is medically necessary for a particular patient. And in Crouse's case, his physician gave him a written recommendation to obtain 75 plants, which he says would "grow enough weight to be able to manufacture the tincture."

After getting the doctor's approval, Crouse filled out the application and submitted it to Colorado regulators, after which he began to acquire more plants. But three months later, he notes, "I got the application back from the state saying there was an address on one piece of paper that was different from the address on another piece of paper. So they needed to have it done again and submitted back as soon as possible."

But before that could happen, on May 1, local police knocked on his door. "They told me they were there to check on my plant count," Crouse recalls. "They began to explain that they had people coming over with search warrants. And over the next three or four hours, ten or twelve different government-task-force employees arrived in eight or nine brand new SUVs -- and they dismantled and took everything I had."

In the process, "they treated me like a criminal," he allows. "I thought due process was something we did in this country, but they came in and basically convicted me. They took my meds, and they haven't allowed me access to them since -- and it's hurting me. I can feel in my own body what's going on, and slowly but surely, I continue to go downhill."

According to 4th Judicial District DA's office community outreach director Lee Richards, Crouse has been charged with marijuana cultivation/thirty or more plants and marijuana possession with intent. Since then, he's been offered a deal, but he finds its particulars to be wholly unacceptable. "They told me I can plead guilty and be a felon and not have access to this medicine anymore -- or else I can go to jail and not have access to this medicine anymore."

At this point, Crouse is being represented by a public defender, but he's got someone else in his corner: activist and blogger Mark Slaugh, who first told his story earlier this month. In Slaugh's view, the key to Crouse's defense is the case of Jason Lauve, a patient who used medical marijuana to address pain caused by a broken back. He, too, was arrested for having too much pot, but in 2009, who was acquitted by a jury under the theory that language in Amendment 20 regarding the amount of marijuana deemed medically necessary was too vague.

"Lauve had a verbal recommendation from his physician for more plants -- and Bob has a written one," Slaugh points out. "And in Jason's case, the decision was, as long as you have a recommendation from your doctor, you're okay. So Bob has an affirmative defense for medical necessity due to his cancer and the type of medicine he was making. But the district attorney sees it as a criminal case."

The next court appearance for Crouse is on August 18 before Judge Tim Schutz in El Paso County Court, and he plans to keep up the fight. In the meantime, he says, "I just want people to understand what I'm doing. In my opinion, I'm just trying to save my life -- to make the quality of my life one I can manage without developing side effects from other types of western medicine. Medical marijuana helps: It's necessary for a lot of people."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Fort Collins group petitions to ban medical marijuana centers."

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