A terminal cancer patient in Iowa was convicted of numerous marijuana-related charges this week.
Benton Mackenzie, 48, will spend the next several years in prison -- and possibly die there -- if he is unable to successfully appeal his convictions for production of marijuana and conspiracy to distribute. Mackenzie says the plant helps him in his battle with angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer of the blood vessels.
Despite overwhelming public support – 81% of Iowa residents favor legal medical marijuana – the plant remains illegal in the state. Because of this, court officials told Mackenzie he was not allowed to invoke his illness as a reason for growing marijuana plants. In Mackenzie's eyes, that means he was barred from telling the truth in court.
"I'm flabbergasted the court ordered me to not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Mackenzie said after his conviction. "It's an abomination of justice."
Mackenzie says officials threatened him with jail time if he talked in court about how he believes cannabis treats his cancer. He told his attorney that he grows marijuana plants to extract CBD oil from them. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana that is often used for pain relief.
In May, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill legalizing CBD use for people with “intractable epilepsy." Mackenzie asked to be granted immunity from prosecution under the new law, but his request was denied.
The Des Moines Register editorial board wrote over the weekend that the law applies to too narrow a group of people.
"The change in law benefits only a small group of Iowans with the most organized lobbying efforts," the board wrote. "Other sick Iowans should have legal access to marijuana extracts, too. These include people with painful and debilitating conditions like cancer, spinal cord injuries and severe arthritis, who may benefit from the drug. But if these people obtain cannabis oil, they will still be considered criminals in this state."
Mackenzie’s wife and 22-year-old son were also convicted on charges stemming from the DEA’s 2013 raid of the family’s home. Federal agents seized 71 marijuana plants in the raid.