Not much is remarkable about Benton Mackenzie’s death. He joined approximately 6,400 Iowans who will succumb to cancer this year, including an estimated 345 in Scott County, according to University of Iowa College of Public Health projections.
Unlike most of those fatalities arising from lung, colon, breast or prostate cancer, Mackenzie died from a rarer form of fast-growing cancerous tumors for which no treatment exists.
Yet he should forever be remembered for the way he chose to live, pushing against Iowa’s ancient marijuana laws and a local prosecutor’s unyielding pursuit of a conviction, certainly not justice. Mackenzie chose to use his final days to force Iowans – and all Americans – to stare down hypocrisy and discover how Iowa and Scott County squandered taxpayer money to assure he left this world convicted and impoverished.
And for what reason? So that no terminally ill patient dares to seek relief? So that would-be pot growers now know that prosecutors will pursue them as aggressively as violent felons? So that Iowa prisons continue to crowd pot users and growers alongside murderers, sex abusers and meth makers?
Mackenzie and his family exhibited enough strength to rally Iowa moms and dads to come out of hiding and demand medical marijuana reform for their sick children. Their strength forced Iowa legislators to finally realize that not all marijuana advocates are glazy-eyed addicts foisting drugs on kids for cash.
In the end, Mackenzie was a cancer patient, desperate for relief from tumors that medicine could not control. American medicine and law allowed his final days to be in a morphine slumber. Taxpayers helped provide the legal, medicinal opiate derivative to this Medicaid patient.
It wasn’t enough to deny him a marijuana alternative. Iowa law and Scott County prosecutors insisted his final days end with a courtroom trial and guilty verdict.
Mackenzie can only be remembered as a serious, gentle man who sought treatment with marijuana plants that would have remained hidden in his parents’ rural home. But dogged investigators chose to comb through his trash, seek a search warrant and pursue criminal charges not just against him, but his entire family.
Scott County prosecutors’ single, meaningless marijuana conviction leaves no impression on our community or the state. We hope Iowans will forever remember a principled Quad-Citian who dedicated the final year of his life to expose futile, hypocritical drug laws that continue to imprison more people while denying relief to law-abiding Iowans.