No one wants to see Benton Mackenzie in jail.
But that’s where the 47-year-old cancer patient is heading as everyone in the Scott County justice system enforces the letter of a law that is doing much more harm than good.
Times reporter Brian Wellner disclosed MacKenzie’s plight in our Sept. 29 editions. Iowa law prohibits Mackenzie from growing, refining and using marijuana extracts to treat his cancer. Research elsewhere suggests promising results from the extract. But there will be no research in Iowa. State law still considers marijuana solely to be an illegal recreational narcotic, not a potential medicine.
Of course, Mackenzie holds legal prescriptions for opiate-based pain relievers, another illegal narcotic that long has been licensed for medical use. But those pain relievers do not inhibit his tumors.
So MacKenzie grew his own marijuana. He might have proceeded undetected. But an acquaintance with a prior criminal record was pulled over in Mackenzie’s car in 2010. Scott County Deputy Dan Furlong used that traffic stop to launch an investigation. He picked through MacKenzie’s trash and found marijuana stems, providing sufficient evidence for a search warrant. Investigators busted the growing operation, leading to charges against Mackenzie, his wife, son and parents.
Investigators turned up no evidence of a widespread dope-dealing operation foisting marijuana into the hands of Quad-City kids. All of the evidence points to a cancer patient desperate for relief.
Yet prosecution continues under an unforgiving Iowa drug law that is far behind the rest of the nation. Twenty states, including Illinois, have legalized medical marijuana. Three more have decriminalized recreational use.
The same facts in a different state would leave Mackenzie labeled a homeopathic pioneer. In Iowa, he’s deemed a criminal so dangerous, county authorities have spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in investigation, raids and court appearances that will lead to even higher incarceration costs upon conviction.
All of this is being spent on the same defendant jailed for two months, until Scott County authorities suddenly realized they might be on the hook for his medical bills. Then he was released without bond.
This hypocrisy will continue as long as Iowa lawmakers ignore mounting evidence of marijuana’s medicinal qualities and its recreational harmlessness.
Despite decades and billions of dollars in federal, state and local enforcement, marijuana remains as accessible as ever. Illinois State Police capture cross-country shipments on Interstate 80 almost weekly, with fish-in-a-barrel proficiency.
The enforcement seems to have zero impact on shipments.
Nowhere has marijuana law reform led to disaster. In fact, it has spurred economies and tax base and, most importantly, freed local police from expensive, futile investigations like Scott County’s two-year pursuit of Mackenzie and his family.
All of this expense and effort does nothing to improve public safety. In fact, this pursuit squanders tax dollars that could be used to fight real crime.
Iowa is overdue for marijuana law reform in response to growing clinical evidence of its medicinal value. Iowa and Illinois are overdue for decriminalizing a substance readily available despite decades of targeted enforcement.
Reform is sweeping the nation, replacing ineffective interdiction with research, regulation and taxation. Reform at this point can’t spare the Mackenzie family or restore the tax dollars squandered in his prosecution. But it can prevent the next injustice, certain to happen as the benefits of medical marijuana and the harmlessness of decriminalized marijuana become more and more apparent.