“There is no Medical Marijuana law in Pierce County”

A month ago, I briefly mentioned a visit I’d made to some medical marijuana patients near Tacoma who went through an arrest ordeal that was so over-the-top I felt compelled to follow up. Brad and Kristie Choate are a married couple who live in the Spanaway area. Brad, who is in his late 20s, lost his leg in a diving accident and Kristie, who is in her mid 40s, is partially disabled with a number of serious ailments. After I met with them and recorded an interview, I was told by a patient advocate not to write anything until they put something up online themselves. On Wednesday this week, that happened, as Kristie recounts what happened:

My name is Kristie Choate. I worked as a Registered Nurse for 17 years. Most of that time I cared for severely ill infants while also caring for children in my home. My illness started after my first child was born. In 1994, I was diagnosed with IBS. In 1999, a hysterectomy was performed to treat the intense chronic pain in my pelvis. The pain only got worse. I was prescribed as much as 22 different drugs. I was in a lot of pain, very nauseated and exhausted most of the time, but I still managed to work in that condition for several years.

Several years ago my husband Brad was admitted to the Emergency Room while I was on duty on another ward. Brad had jumped off of a cliff at Boxcar Canyon and shattered his foot on the rocks. The leg became infected and half of his leg had to be amputated. Since then he has been in excruciating pain, but we soon discovered he has psychotic reactions to narcotic pain killers. Brad found that medical marijuana gave him pain relief without the psychotic symptoms. I had been forced to put 3 out of 4 of my teenagers into drug rehab for marijuana use, so allowing Brad to use medical marijuana was not an easy decision. As a health care provider, I had never even heard of medical marijuana. But it helped him and I became convinced.

I spoke mostly with Kristie when I visited them, but I did speak to Brad as well. Medical marijuana is known to be very effective for dealing with what’s called phantom pain (you can watch a video from Drew Carey and reason.tv here about a similar patient) that occurs with amputees. A few years later, Kristie found that medical marijuana was effective for her as well:

During that time I also became disabled. I went to a urologist who diagnosed me with Interstitial Cystitis, a serious disease involving blisters inside the bladder. When I am unable to urinate the blisters break, leaving open sores that bleed and are very painful. I get very nauseated from the pain and sometimes have large quantities of blood in my urine. The longer it goes on the worse it gets. Flare-ups of blisters occur from stress and from diet. I took care of the diet problem when I started using Ensure liquid protein drink after losing 80 lbs. from vomiting so much. Soy is the only protein source that doesn‘t irritate the problem, so Ensure is all I eat. I had managed the symptoms with a drug called Elmiron for a few years, but I became allergic to the only treatment that helped. I began using narcotics, Fentanyl, patches with Ultrum, because the pain was unbearable. My urologist also prescribed me unlimited access to the bathroom, a heat pack to my abdomen, and unlimited access to fluids. I lost my job because my boss decided I was overmedicated, and I was forced to go on disability to pay for the $7,000 per month of prescription medications I was on. I found a doctor who recommended medical marijuana, and I began eating it in capsule form. Within three months I was able to eliminate 20 of the 22 medications I had used, and I have also gained back much of the weight I had lost.

When I first arrived at their house, it took a while for Kristie to make it to the door and let me in (Brad was not home yet). She’s only partially mobile, but generally uses a wheelchair only when she needs to go outside. She’s very thin with a pale complexion and brown hair. As I began speaking with her, their two dogs nearly licked me to death for several minutes. Brad arrived shortly after and I spoke with them for about an hour.

Once the Choates became registered medical marijuana patients, they had to deal with the biggest problem that medical marijuana patients deal with – maintaining a supply of medicine. As they navigated through this, Kristie’s nursing instincts kicked in and they formed a “church” that helps other patients fend for themselves. Becoming both a patient and an activist, however, has its risks and she soon found herself becoming the target of both thieves and the police. This came to a head on January 29th of this year:

On January 29th, I was awakened by the words, “the police are here” I came to the front room and looked out the window–twenty guns were pointed at my head. We were told they had a warrant and to open the door. We secured our dogs in bathrooms. I was read my rights, and I answered officer Nordstrom’s questions. I wasn’t asked if I distributed marijuana to anyone. I did tell him we hadn’t ever been able to grow enough to supply ourselves.

We were told by officer Nordstrom, “There is no Medical Marijuana law in Pierce County. If you want to grow Marijuana, move to Olympia, it’s a nice little town.” he repeated the same to Brad, and then added “were going to raid your home every three months to make your life a living hell!” We were then told we were going to jail. I asked to use the bathroom, but Nordstrom turned violent, yelling “NO!” and “Don’t ask again.” I tried to tell him about my disability, how it was painful to have urine in my bladder. He told me to shut up. The police seized 50 small marijuana plants along with medical files, church donations, all of our personal savings, and many personal belongings.

Now that this story is out in the open, I plan to follow up with the officers involved and find out of they dispute any of this story. Both Brad and Kristie told me the same story when I spoke to them. After being arrested, though, they had varying experiences behind bars. When I asked Brad about this, he mentioned that his experience wasn’t as bad because he’d been arrested before and also because he has far fewer medical needs than his wife. He also said that he knew to keep his mouth shut. Kristie was far more vocal about demanding that the officials at the jail help her with her medical needs, and this led to a situation where officials at the Pierce County Jail allegedly deprived her of a wheelchair and food for a full week:

I asked for my wheelchair to be transported, and my shower chair. I was told my family could bring it later. I asked for an arm to help me get out to the car–that was refused. I vomited in the police car from the pain. I vomited in the booking area from the pain. I reported my medical conditions to the RN who did my intake. I provided her with the information that I am on a very large dose of narcotics for severe pain, and would be needing my medicine. I told her I was unable to eat solid foods due to choking, and I told her I used a wheelchair. There were wheelchairs sitting there, but I was refused access.

I was choking on my own vomit, so I asked for a pillow to prop up my head. The guards yelled at me, picked me up by my hair, and dragged roughly through the halls and onto an elevator where a tall female guard early suffocated me by shoving my face into the wall. They put me in solitary confinement. Every half an hour the guard banged on the door. If I didn’t respond, they opened the cell and poked me. This went on for 3 days. No one would tell me why when I went to court the next day and was told no charges were being filed. They said I’d be let out that night, but I wasn’t let out. I wasn’t taken to the clinic to get my medications started because I couldn’t walk. They said they didn’t have time to get a wheelchair.

I wasn’t given anything I could eat for the first seven days. I told every person I would choke and die, but not one cared. I could not go to court on Friday, day four of my incarceration, because they wouldn’t bring a wheelchair. Officer Reuter said, “fine, stay there and rot. We’re taking your husband and putting him away for life!” I tried to tell him I was sick. He replied, “You’re sick because you’re a bleach blond crack whore withdrawing!” I don’t know where that came from because I am not blonde and I have nothing to do with crack.

Again, this is one person’s story and I certainly can’t personally attest to the veracity of the details.

When I was there, the house was not kept up well at all. Kristie had already lost custody of her granddaughter as a result, in part because of the amount of pets they had living there at the time of the raid. As I sat there, I imagined how easy it would be for people to make judgments of them based upon that alone, but regardless of how messy someone is, what Kristie Choate went through is completely unacceptable in a civilized society.

I plan to do what I can in order to help the Choates find adequate representation. They are charged with manufacturing a controlled substance. Some local organizations are already helping with their defense. Whether or not the recently released draft limits for medical marijuana patients will protect them from prosecution is still very unclear, but one thing is certain. These people don’t belong in jail. They’re not criminals. They’re not a threat to society in any way. Unfortunately, in Pierce County, even the law doesn’t seem to matter in cases like this.

Comments

  1. 1

    michael spews:

    I’m a Pierce County resident and I’ll send out a few emails about this. I’ll email you what I find out.

  2. 2

    Politically Incorrect spews:

    As I’ve said many times on this blog, marijuana is illegal because, when Prohibition ended in the Thirties, the government did not want to lay-off a bunch of alcohol agents since the Depression was raging at the time. Making marijuana illegal gave them instant employment and helped create yet another government bureaucracy.

    I fully support the legalization of this product because I believe in individual freedom, and this substance offers some good benefits for people who are suffering. It’s time to finally end Prohibition.

  3. 3

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    If you follow the link, one of the commenters added a bit to the story.
    He talked about being there at the time of the police raid to buy medicinal pot, which should be easy enough to check out. He talked about the filth of the house, the smell, the dog crap AND a little baby crawling on the floor. When the police showed up the husband locked all the doors and disappeared.
      
    It’s a good thing the grand daughter was taken from them.
      
    Regardless of how much pain someone is in, the conditions that Kristie forced her grand daughter to live in is criminal. She should be brought up on charges for child abuse.

  4. 5

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    “I plan to do what I can in order to help the Choates find adequate representation.”

    Lembhard Howell of Seattle is an African-American torts attorney with vast experience in suing police. He’s a Democratic Party activist, too.

  5. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @3 “She should be brought up on charges for child abuse.”

    What for? She’s already been tortured before trial. Isn’t that enough for you?

  6. 7

    michael spews:

    @3

    The commenter also backed up the claim of miss-treatment by the police.

    I wouldn’t take any of this as gospel, but this does look like something that needs to be looked into further.

  7. 8

    spews:

    If true, this woman’s story is a lawsuit waiting to happen. I read through her account on the Cascadia NORML board, and nobody should be required to go through that kind of abuse.

    If true.

    The problem I see so far is that she’s posted her story in other places, and the details seem to change. In one post, she and her husband are “Cannabis Sacrament ministers”, ordained by the “Universal Life Church”.

    (In case anyone is wondering, you too can be a Universal Life Minister. It’s free, and can be done online in just a few minutes.)

    Of course, regardless of the truth of the allegations, there is an important point that can be taken from this.

    The current marijuana laws are nuts!

    Normally, I’d give this account no weight whatsoever. With the conflicting stories, each one worse than the last, the ULC “cannibis ministry” and the apparent deliberate viciousness of the police in these stories, I would simply assume that this is a couple of dopers, pissed off that the cops took their stash.

    But Lee has actually talked to them, and I presume has been to their home. Had that home been a dirty, infested hovel with a bunch of stoners sitting around, I’m pretty sure he would have mentioned it.

    In the end this story, true or not, illustrates the problem with current marijuana laws.

    The police have conflicting instructions, and some will use that conflict to decide to enforce their own form of “morality”.

    And… Some folks that probably should be in jail have a ready-made advocacy group, ready to believe that the police are abusing their authority, whether that is true or not.

    And with all that, why is this stuff illegal in the first place? Heck, it grows wild over most of the midwest. Keeping it illegal means that there is no way of knowing what toxic substances it might be laced with, and sends huge piles of money to some really bad people.

    In the end, I’m still a bit skeptical of some of the claims, but if they are true, she should have an interesting lawsuit to press, and I hope she wins it.

    But if they are not true, then we have someone hiding behind the absurdity of our laws, and that might be just as bad.

  8. 10

    spews:

    @8
    But Lee has actually talked to them, and I presume has been to their home. Had that home been a dirty, infested hovel with a bunch of stoners sitting around, I’m pretty sure he would have mentioned it.

    As I mentioned in the post, I did find the house to be very un-well-kept, but I also recognize that two disabled people who are facing potential prison sentences are not going to be the most avid housekeepers.

    Like any single-person account, it should be taken with the appropriate grains of salt, but after meeting with them, I’m fairly convinced that their story is not a fabrication, but possibly embellished somewhat. Regardless of what actually happened, it was very obvious that Kristie was traumatized by what happened, especially as she’s a partially disabled woman in her 40s who went to jail for the first time in her life.

  9. 11

    spews:

    @3
    That commenter was also angry that the Choates didn’t contact her after the raid – which is odd, since the Choates were in prison and couldn’t do that. They mentioned to me that the person who was here during the raid was, in fact, angry with them, but I’ll have to listen to the recorded interview to remember the specifics.

    As for the granddaughter, I think you have to have a pretty extraordinary reason to move a child into foster care, and I don’t think the fact that the Choates had more pets than they could handle at the time (there was a litter of puppies) qualifies, but I also wasn’t there at the time of the raid when that determination was made.

  10. 12

    Broadway Joe spews:

    Welcome to the Third World, folks. I hope the Choates get millions out of this. But knowing how things go, their grandchildren will be the ones collecting the money. All the PCSD and PCJ employees involved in this should be fired on the spot.

  11. 13

    Stephen Schwartz spews:

    Given the emphasis Lee has made on “medical marijuana” may I suggest for balance that folks read this excellent summary of the literature by the American College of Physicians?

    The key points, if I may summarize the already brief report, are these:

    1. There is a medical use of THC, the most important fo the known ingredients in marijuana.
    THC can be given in a number of forms, including an aerosol that is leagl in Canada but not yet in the USA.

    2. Soking weed should not be encouraged because of concerns about purity and evidence that inhaling smoke is bad for you.

    3. Research in THC and marijuana in general is merited.

    4. Even when it becomes legalized, hopefully we will not encourage people to smoke pot without a lot of evidence that we are not repeating the epidemic of the last three centuries caused by the “filthy habit.”

    Brownies are probably fine!

    ******************************************

    As for Lee,

    He is making a tempest out of a few snow flakes. THC is available as a legal drug.

    Unless a patient can not take the legal, oral drug, they have no problem. Of course one reason for taking THC is nausea and that can make an oral drug difficult to take. I supect anybody who needs it can can get the Canadian drug pretty easily and hopefully will soon be able to do buy the aerosol here too. Certaionly I would urge his friend to do that rather than getting herself fucked over by the pot police.

    Gieb the profit motic=ve in this society, I would also expect to see injectable and supository forms if the data continue to look good.

    Finally, Lee’s misrepresenting science is not a good way to convince people that marijuana should be legal. As far as I can find out:

    a. ther eis not evidence that reefers have any benefit that is not attributeable to THC asnd THC IS legal now.

    b. The report in my link offers ane xcellent summary any lay person can read, inlcuding recommendations that will allow physicians and patients to get the hep they desire wothout braking the law.

    c. Lee’s reference to an expert who supports his opinion at the UW turns out to be to a medical student who is doing a PhD in the geography of marijuans usuage. Sumil Aggarwal is well read than Lee, but his degree is not in toxicology, psychopharmacology, or biochemistry. While Sunil has read the literature, based on our conversation .. he is not terribly expert in the relevnat biochemistry or pharmacology. Sunil, also seem to beleive in herbal medicine and a number of other ideas that are, to say the least, not in good favor among most scientists. There are, by the way, a number of folks at UW who do have expertise in these areas and I have suggested to lee that he talk with them.