A 48-year-old terminal cancer patient was rushed to the hospital from an Iowa courthouse Monday during his trial over felony charges for growing marijuana he uses as a treatment for his rare condition.
Brian Wellner of Iowa's Quad-City Times' first reported that paramedics took Benton Mackenzie, who was expected to take the stand in his trial in Scott County District Court on Monday, from the courtroom to a local hospital after he complained of extreme pain and hallucinations related to his angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer of the blood vessels which has produced large lesions on Mackenzie's skin.
Despite Mackenzie's deteriorating condition, his trial is expected to be completed Friday, Linda Bowman, the judicial trial court supervisor at the Scott County Clerk's Office, told The Huffington Post. If Mackenzie is found guilty, he faces at least three years in prison -- a punishment that he's said equates to a death sentence.
"If I'm found guilty at all, I'm a dead man," Mackenzie told Quad-City in May.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE APPEARS BELOW, READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signed a limited measure into law in May that legalizes the use of CBD, or cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis and used in the treatment of seizures. However, the state has not legalized the broader use of medical marijuana, as 23 states have done. According to FreeBenton.org, a website documenting Mackenzie's case, Mackenzie has never cultivated cannabis to sell or distribute, but instead has used the plants for personal medical purposes to make the CBD oil and treat his cancerous tumors.
Iowa's CBD law protects use of the same marijuana-derived oil that Mackenzie uses, but the law's narrow focus on treatment of only "intractable epilepsy" does not apply to or legally protect Mackenzie.
District Court Judge Henry Latham ruled in May that Mackenzie is barred from using his condition as a defense in court during his trial as a reason for why he was growing marijuana, the Associated Press reported.
“I’m not allowed to give proof why I was using,” Mackenzie told the Quad-City Times. “Now, there is no fair trial."
Photos documenting Mackenzie's case and the growth of the cancerous lesions have been posted to the "Free Benton Mackenzie" Facebook page, a community forum dedicated to Mackenzie's case.
One of the most recent photos, from July 4, appears below:
In 2013, Mackenzie was arrested after local authorities seized 71 marijuana plants during a raid of his parents' home in Long Grove, Iowa. Marijuana in any form is illegal at the federal level, and Iowa lacks any broad legal medical marijuana framework.
Mackenzie, his wife Loretta, his son Cody (21) and his parents Charles and Dorothy (76 and 75, respectively) were all charged with various counts, from felonies to misdemeanors -- including hosting a drug house and conspiracy to grow and sell marijuana, the Washington Times reported. The trial for Mackenzie, his wife and their son began in early July.
Iowa's new CBD oil law isn't the state's first encounter with the prospects of legalizing marijuana for medical use. Back in 2010, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy unanimously recommended that the state legislature legalize the use of medical marijuana. Earlier this year, after several failed attempts to legalize the drug, the board's chairman said during a hearing that the organization lacks the authority to establish a medical marijuana program in the state, but sympathizes with the Iowa voters seeking legalization. State lawmakers need to make a decision on the matter, the chairman said.
Meanwhile, Iowa voters overwhelmingly support medical marijuana -- 81 percent are in favor of legalization, according to a recent poll.
In an op-ed over the weekend, the Des Moines Register editorial board weighed in on both the limited CBD oil law and the Mackenzie case.
"The change in law benefits only a small group of Iowans with the most organized lobbying efforts," the editorial board wrote. "Other sick Iowans should have legal access to marijuana extracts, too. These include people with painful and debilitating conditions like cancer, spinal cord injuries and severe arthritis, who may benefit from the drug. But if these people obtain cannabis oil, they will still be considered criminals in this state."
Later on Monday, Wellner tweeted an update on Mackenzie:
Here's Benton Mackenzie's condition right now, according to family: He's anemic, potassium and hemoglobin levels are down, needs transfusion
— Brian Wellner (@brianwellner) July 7, 2014