January 30, 2011 by wcobserver
The swishing thumping sound of helicopter blades slicing through the air can often mean one of two things; either help has arrived or they’re coming to get you. The two police and military helicopters weren’t hovering over the modest home on Devil’s Den Road five miles south of West Fork to rescue an injured person or deliver needed supplies after some natural castatrophe. They were there because our country is at war. The war on drugs, in this case, had identified a target; a couple of dozen marijuana plants growing in someone’s back yard. Shortly after the helicopters dropped an armed agent and retreated, law enforcement officers arrived, handcuffed and took 48-year-old Paul Doke to jail. Four months later in mid December a jury in Washington County Circuit Court took ten minutes to find him guilty. Mr. Doke, a man with no criminal history and no evidence of drug trafficking was facing big fines and hard time. War is hell.
The real story begins to unfold at the sentencing phase of the trial which brought to light Dokes reason for growing marijuana. He has a medical condition, Crohn’s disease which is an intestinal disorder that causes significant pain. Doke explained to the Observer that the prescribed high powered narcotics created unwanted side effects. “They’re addictive,” he said, “oxycontin is so strong if I miss a trip to the pain doctor I go into withdrawal and the pain comes back. I don’t like being stuck on those drugs. If I miss a dose of marijuana it’s no big deal.” Another drug he is prescribed is Marinol which he said, “kills the nausea but doesn’t help appetite.”
It is common knowledge that marijuana stimulates the appetite and dulls the senses but without knowing any dealers or anyone to teach him how to grow the plant, he turned to the internet. With instructions from a couple of videos from medical marijuana advocacy groups in California and seeds ordered by mail from Vancouver British Columbia, Mr. Doke became an Arkansas outlaw.
Treating a medical condition is not a legal defense for growing marijuana in Arkansas. At the pre-trial hearing Doke’s attorney Greg Kleboneff was prohibited from discussing anything “medical” regarding marijuana. As irrational and unjust as it may seem to some, Judge William Story and deputy prosecuting attorney Dennis Dean were both just doing their job; following the law.
In Arkansas, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana could get you a year in jail and a $1000 fine for the first offense. The second offense could result in up to six years incarceration. A third offense carries a mandatory minimum of 3 years and maximum of 10 years. Someone caught with over one ounce of the substance is presumed to be a drug dealer. According to information distributed by the Marijuana Policy Project there were over 7000 arrests for marijuana related offenses in Arkansas in 2007, most for simple possession with Arkansas outpacing the national average.
A growing number of people in Arkansas find marijuana laws harsh and ineffective both from the human and economic perspectives and are working for change. Some of the change has happened at the municipal level through local initiatives. In November, 2008, voters in Fayetteville overwhelmingly approved an initiative making possession of an ounce or less of marijuana intended for personal use the city’s lowest enforcement priority. Earlier in 2006, Eureka Springs approved a similar initiative. Last year the Associated Student Government of Fayetteville’s University of Arkansas passed a referendum stating that marijuana offenses should not be punished by the university any more harshly that alcohol offenses.
“It ruins young people’s lives,” said Doke’s attorney Greg Kleboneff who is an advocate of change in the law.
There are a growing number of concerned citizen activist groups working to have Arkansas join the other fifteen states and Washington, D.C. where marijuana used as medicine has been decriminalized. Advocates for reform describe numerous ailments among those likely to benefit from such use including nausea and vomiting, digestive disorders, loss of appetite; nerve pain including phantom pain experienced by amputees, certain nervous system disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder, migraine, and even obscure brain malfunctions like Tourette’s syndrome; muscle spasms experienced in a wide range of situations, including multiple sclerosis and seizures resulting from spinal cord injury; and the relief of persistent chronic pain.
One of these reform groups is headed by West Fork resident Denele Campbell who currently serves as Executive Director for Drug Policy Education Group, Inc., described as “an Arkansas nonprofit working to educate and motivate Arkansas citizens regarding the need for drug policy reform.” She was formerly the Executive Director for DPEG’s sister group, the Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas, Inc. It is a political action group which sponsored three unsuccessful efforts to legalize medical use in the state. Both organizations were founded in 1999 by Campbell along with former Fayetteville Councilman Kyle Russell and former U of A professor and longtime Washington County Justice of the Peace for his district, Lyell Thompson.
Some other reform groups active in the state are:
Marijuana Policy Project ‘s stated belief is ”that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is prison, we focus on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors. They “envision a nation where marijuana is legally regulated similarly to alcohol, marijuana education is honest and realistic, and treatment for problem marijuana users is non-coercive and geared toward reducing harm.”
Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VMCA), advocates for Veterans’ rights to access medical cannabis for therapeutic purposes. VMCA encourages all legislative bodies to endorse Veterans’ rights to use medical cannabis therapeutically and responsibly, and is working to end all prohibitions associated with such use. VMCA is working to preserve and protect the long established doctor-patient relationship including the ability to safely discuss medical cannabis use within the V.A. healthcare system without fear of punishment or retribution.
Patients Out of Time is a Virginia based non-profit that focuses on educating all disciplines of health care professionals; their specialty and professional organizations; and the public at large about medical cannabis (marijuana).” Patients Out of Time has no other interest, nor does the organization have any opinion, stated or unstated, about any issue other than therapeutic cannabis. All educating, lobbying, communication or any other endeavor of Patients Out of Time shall be limited to the sole subject Marijuana as Medicine!”
In their call for reform the group emphasizes the fact that prior to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, marijuana was widely used by medical doctors in the United States for a variety of physical and emotional ailments. They claim that, “The U.S. government began a litany of ‘reefer madness’ propaganda and police actions that are with us today. Coupled with the bureaucratic demands of the tax act, the practice of physicians prescribing cannabis for therapeutic purposes in such an environment became subject to great scrutiny and therefore unwise. Cannabis’s therapeutic value was no longer taught in medical schools; it vanished from the pharmacopoeia of the U.S.; it became outlawed.”
Probably one of the most active citizen action groups on this issue is the Arkansas chapter of NORML, which has for decades worked to decriminalization marijuana for both personal and medical uses. It is an official affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws which has more than a hundred local chapters throughout the nation and world.
Members of ArkNORML are often visible at various demonstrations and political rallies. They are determined activists who advocate the use of “any legal means necessary to change the unjust laws of our nation and state in regards to hemp and the special herb, marijuana. Educate the people, write to your representatives and your local newspaper, call the Governor and demonstrate at events of opportunity, all are examples of citizen activists at work. One thing is certain; if we do nothing, we can expect no change… fight for your rights to life, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness!”
These and other groups plus individual citizens will have a chance to be heard where change has a chance of happening; the state capital. State Sen. Randy Laverty, D-Jasper, who received a liver transplant last year as part of his treatment for liver cancer, has said he plans to file a bill in the 2011 session to legalize medical cannabis [according to a press release.]
A coalition group called Arkansans for Medical Cannabis (A4MC) is sponsoring an event to educate lawmakers during the first week of the 2011 legislative session. The program will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m Wednesday and Thursday, January 12-13, in the rotunda of the Arkansas State Capitol building in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Meanwhile, Paul Doke is back home in his modest house on Devil’s Den Road taking care of his widowed mother and getting on with his life. He seems to harbor no bitterness about the episode. His bank account is $7500 lighter and being a convicted felon he won’t be voting in the next election but told the Observer, “in the article be sure to say I want to thank the jury for not sending me to jail.”