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.