Last week we filed a motion to reargue our case to the Vermont Supreme Court because they overlooked substantial evidence and relied on significant factual errors in their opinion. The majority based their decision, in large part, on the finding that my mom had three years to comply with the medical marijuana law. In fact, the medical marijuana law had included my symptoms for only thirty-three days when my mother’s garden was raided on August 2, 2007. On July 1, 2007 the Legislature amended the 2004 medical marijuana law with vocal opposition from Governor Douglas; it became law without his signature. Before that day, any cultivation or possession of cannabis was illegal because I did not have one of the qualifying conditions; cancer, AIDS, or multiple sclerosis. Whether for symptom relief or not, a single plant, flower, or seed, grown inside or outdoors was criminal. Interestingly, as Chief Justice Reiber pointed out, “Had defendant been arrested before Vermont’s medical-marijuana law went into effect, I imagine that the majority would reach a different decision today, as there would be no rationale for preventing defendant from presenting the necessity defense to the jury” ¶ 35. To suggest, as the majority did, that we should have attempted to comply with the unrealistic mandates of a law that didn’t even apply to me is asking a lot from a family that was in crisis since 2002.
Once the amendment became law on July 1, 2007, compliance would have required that we destroy a year’s supply of clean organic medicine that was going to be ready in less than two months. The law allows for possession of two mature and seven immature plants grown indoors, and two ounces of “usable” marijuana. To grow two mature plants indoors takes six months of diligent work every day. The only other choice to treat my symptoms was to buy marijuana from a drug dealer. It is strange compassion that prefers my mother buy marijuana on the street rather than grow it in a garden. How can the state say that because my mother didn’t do that she can’t have a fair trial?
Both the court and Peter Neary pointed to the fact that my mother participates in the Vermont Master Gardener program as proof that she must know how to grow marijuana indoors. She may be a Master Gardener, but she is not a magician, and besides, the Master Gardener mission statement is directly at odds with Vermont’s medical marijuana law: “Vermont Master Gardener supports the University of Vermont by recruiting, training, and overseeing volunteer Master Gardeners whose goal is to promote successful, safe, and environmentally prudent home horticulture practices through education and community activities.” (emphasis added) The constraints of the medical marijuana law make certain that any patient endeavor to grow their own medicine will be environmentally imprudent, a risk to their health, and, in the end, after exceptional effort and expense, a failure.
People who grow marijuana illegally do so indoors to avoid detection. The lights they use require a tremendous amount of energy, sometimes as much as an entire house. Dealers are unregulated, so they have no regard for the health of their consumer, they use pesticides and fertilizers that I would never dream of putting on something for consumption. These illegal growers use what is called a “sea of green” growing method, cramming hundreds of tiny plants into a room while maintaining a separate space to ready more plants for flowering; each indoor plant yields a pitiful harvest, so saturation is key.
The lie that the law promotes is that marijuana is easy to get and easy to grow. At oral argument Peter Neary said, “You have kids in college growing marijuana, or people in their houses, in closets, in their basements.” Obviously, he doesn’t know the first thing about growing plants. To grow marijuana according to this law you need a dedicated space, with expensive lights, access to water, proper ventilation, the right kind of growing medium, and some way to keep pests off of your monoculture. Maybe Peter Neary is equipped to grow a crop in his house starting in July, but here, we are New England gardeners. We start annual crops in the spring and harvest in the fall. This is true for all of our vegetables, if we want salsa in the winter, we start tomatoes and hot peppers in the spring, harvest, process, and preserve them in the fall. Of course, if we have a crop failure or we don’t have enough for the entire year, we go to the market. We don’t have to worry that we won’t be able to find a “dealer,” or that the purveyor will rob us, or that the price will have doubled, or that the plant was grown improperly, or about adulteration. It is entirely foreign to me that a sun-loving plant should be grown indoors, in an artificial environment, year round. It is wrong that the state asks seriously ill people to do it.
I hope that one more Justice on the Vermont Supreme Court will listen to reason this week. In the event that they don’t, for all of the medical marijuana patients in Vermont, this injustice needs to be made known.