By Beth Dodd:
Green Mountain Falls resident Bob Crouse is a cancer patient who uses medical marijuana to fight the effects of his illness. He is also fighting in the courts to keep his medicine and defend his private property rights.
Back in May 2011, following a police raid on his home, Crouse was charged with two felonies for growing more marijuana plants than the state?s legal limit of six. Crouse claims that the state went after him because of a minor paperwork error. Since then his life has been complicated by a series of court battles.
?I am not only fighting for my life, I am fighting for the right to fight for my life,? said Crouse.
Crouse has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. His illness was found several years ago when he was given a blood test after being injured in a fall from a ladder. The leukemia causes pain throughout his body. He also has trouble with stress, anxiety, and sleep issues. Medical marijuana offers him the most consistent and effective relief as compared to anything else he has tried, including pharmaceuticals like oxycodone.
?Cannabinoids give hope to sick people,? says Crouse, who has become a strong advocate for people?s right to chose what they put into their bodies. ?A light comes into their eyes. Without hope you can?t win. Doctors are only resource people. Ultimately, you are in charge of your own care.?
When his legal troubles began in 2011, Crouse was a legally registered medical marijuana patient. His doctor had recommended that he acquire more plants to meet his medical needs than allowed under Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana in Colorado.
In particular, Crouse has discovered that Phoenix Tears, a cannabis oil treatment developed by Rick Simpson, works well for him. However, extracting the 2 grams or so of hemp oil that he needs every day can require boiling a pound of pot at a time. To allow Crouse to make his own medicine in sufficient quantities, his doctor gave him a written recommendation for up to 75 plants. Crouse filed the appropriate paperwork with the state and got more plants. Three months later, he received a complaint saying that his doctor?s address on two of his forms didn?t match and that he needed to file his papers all over again.
Before he could return to the doctor?s office to get the paperwork fixed, the police and other government officials arrived at his home with search warrants. They seized his plants and his lab equipment. He lost his medicine, and the medical research capacity he had built to learn about the benefits of medical marijuana. Crouse had collected samples of fifty strains for the purpose of analyzing their medicinal effects. Crouse was arrested and charged with two felonies; illegal marijuana cultivation and marijuana possession with intent to sell. He claims there was no police investigation before or after his arrest.
Crouse?s resulting criminal case, prosecuted by District Attorney Dan May’s office, was heard in court in late June 2012 after a year?s worth of delays. While protesters and medical marijuana advocates rallied in front of the El Paso County Courthouse, Crouse was found not guilty on both charges on June 25 at 4:20 p.m., a time which holds great significance for marijuana users.
Case closed? No. In spite of Crouse?s acquittal, the Colorado Springs police refused to return his plants as required by state law. Crouse sued, and won a second court battle. His plants were returned to him in November 2012; dead, contaminated, and unusable.
On top of this, Crouse soon found himself in a third legal bout with Colorado Springs. CSPD Chief Pete Carey and D.A. Dan May filed an appeal of the court ruling to return Crouse?s plants. Both Colorado Springs and El Paso County filed motions to try to get the case moved into federal district court. (All marijuana use is still illegal under federal law in spite of Colorado?s Amendments 20 and 64.) Their move was based on Crouse?s original lawsuit which claimed a federal civil rights violation. Crouse?s lawyer had to take the civil rights claim out of his case in order to keep it in the El Paso County District Court.
Crouse won anyway. In his third court victory in December 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the District Court?s earlier judgment that the Colorado Springs Police Department should return the medical marijuana seized from Bob Crouse or compensate him for it. In spite of this, D.A. Dan May is appealing it to the Colorado Supreme Court. If the high court agrees to hear the case and rules in Crouse?s favor, their decision would set an important precedent for the government being held liable for the destruction of private property. There is no deadline for when the court must announce whether it will hear the case or not.
Also in late December 2013, Crouse and his attorney filed a civil suit against the City of Colorado Springs for the destruction of his marijuana plants. The city has now filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case. The judge?s decision is expected to be announced within the next 30 days. If the case is dismissed, Crouse will have the option to appeal.
While the exact amount of damages being sought by Crouse is unclear, it is estimated that the 55 plants taken from him were worth over $300,000. Crouse says the issue in question is property rights, not medical marijuana use. He compared his seized medicinal marijuana plants to an impounded car.
?If the police illegally took your car and gave it back to you broken, wouldn?t you expect them to fix it?? he asked. However, he also says that his suit is about more than the money. He wants to win in the court of public opinion.
?If I lose my rights to my private property, I lose my right to medical necessity, and then everyone loses,? said Crouse, referring to the clause in Amendment 20 that lets a patient and their doctor decide how much marijuana is appropriate to meet their individual medical needs.
Throughout this whole legal process, Crouse has still been fighting leukemia. He claims that Dan May views him, and others in the Colorado Springs area with similar cases, as criminals rather than medical patients. Crouse also says that a Freedom of Information Act request has shown that the D.A. has attempted prosecution of several thousand cases against patients and dispensary owners, more than any other jurisdiction in the state. However, El Paso County has the highest population of any county in Colorado. While the exact nature and disposition of all of these cases is unclear, Crouse believes that many of them have been brought unconstitutionally and demonstrate a personal prejudice against medical marijuana by the D.A.
A devout man with a gentle voice, Crouse becomes agitated when discussing his experiences. ?We have become a generation who has lost its heritage,? he claims. ?The creator gave rights to man, not to a king or government. It is the people who give the government its rights.? He would like to see more people become aware and involved in combating the abuse of power by officials like May, that he claims are corrupt.
Crouse also said, ?If it had not been for cancer, I would not have been arrested. Because of the negative attitudes towards medical marijuana, you are seen as a heretic, a blasphemer.?
In fact, the local medical marijuana community has been protesting the actions of the D.A.?s office for years, citing the cases of Chuck Ball, Elise Kappelmann and Ali Hillery as examples of May running roughshod over innocent citizens. Ball, who uses marijuana to help with disabling leg injuries, had his home raided by police in December 2011 and again in February 2012, yet charges were never filed against him. Kappelmann is a dispensary owner who was acquitted on charges brought against her by May?s office. Hillery, another acquitted dispensary owner, filed a $3.3 million law suit against Colorado Springs for the loss of her seized and destroyed medical marijuana crop.
In the past, May has stated that while he supports medical marijuana, he is opposed to dispensaries near schools. He says he has seen how dispensaries can lead students into crime. For example, a February 2013 story in Chalkbeat Colorado says that Colorado Springs now has nearly as many dispensaries as churches, and the number of cases of drug related juvenile crime has risen dramatically since their arrival. Children are being caught with cannibis products bearing dispensary labels. Schools in District 11 have had some of the highest increases in drug violations in the state, mostly marijuana related. Palmer High School reported two drug incidents in 2007-08, one in 2008-09, 75 in 2009-10 and 45 in 2010-11. Chalkbeat stated that May said that medical marijuana is the #1 drug that kids report using in his crime diversion program in El Paso and Teller counties.
However, May?s detractors accuse him of publically lying about his views on medical marijuana and persecuting sick people in order to make a name for himself so he can reach for the state attorney general?s office. Others say the problem is really the Colorado Springs City Council, which traded the welfare of the community?s youth for the hundreds of thousands of tax dollars it?s collected from dispensaries while 80 other Colorado communities including Woodland Park and Cripple Creek said no to pot. Colorado Springs was scraping the bottom of the budget barrel in 2010, but brought in an estimated $770,000 in marijuana taxes in 2011.
The Mountain Jackpot attempted to speak with Dan May for this story and was referred to the District Attorney?s Community Relations Officer, Leigh Richards. Ms. Richards did not return our calls. Reporter KC Stark of The Hemp Connoisseur reported the same treatment while researching a related story in spring 2013. In fact, Dan May and his staff have consistently declined to comment on Crouse?s case.
Ironically, in a March 2010 story in the Gazette about possible ethics violations charges being brought against Dan May by then Colorado Springs City Councilman Sean Paige, May declared, ?I would say that a normal citizen could pick up the phone and call me.? May was suspected of inappropriate behavior while gathering information to file a citizen complaint against the Pure Medical marijuana dispensary in his Rockrimmon neighborhood.