In the autumn of 1997, North Carolina resident Jean Marlowe traveled to Switzerland. Marlowe, who suffers from a rare liver disease, spinal problems, and severe arthritis, wasn’t much interested in alpine scenery or Swiss chocolates. Instead, Marlowe sought an international prescription for medical marijuana.
She spoke to several Swiss doctors and received a mediweed prescription. The doctors told her they were sorry she lived in “a police state.”
Marlowe had already hooked up with two American sisters, Shirin and Christina Patterson, who ran a Swiss medical marijuana supply company named SWIHTCO. She met the Pattersons at a medical marijuana patients’ meeting in Philadelphia in February 1997.
The meeting had been organized by pioneering attorney Larry Hirsch. At the time, Hirsch was pursuing a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of US mediweed patients.
Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery financed the lawsuit, which challenged the constitutionality of marijuana prohibition, especially in cases of medical necessity. A biased federal judge threw out the suit in 1999.
The Pattersons told patients they’d send organically grown marijuana to the US. A few weeks later, Florida med-pot patient
Joe Hart got a package in the mail, even though he had never requested one!
Police disguised as postal workers made the delivery. They battered down Hart’s door a few minutes later, put guns to his head, ransacked his Key West home, and made homophobic comments.
Hart was arrested, convicted of illegally importing marijuana, and later died of AIDS. Florida activist Kay Lee championed Hart’s cause, saying corrupt police, judges, and prison officials abused him.
A few days after Hart’s arrest, Washington resident Jess “Fat Freddy” Williams was busted for receiving a 50 pound SWIHTCO shipment in the mail. Soon, dozens of Americans began receiving SWIHTCO pot, having been assured by the Pattersons that they were legally importing cannabis as a “medicine approved by a foreign government.”
A package of trouble
Marlowe arrived at the scenic SWIHTCO “CannaBioland” compound in Litzistdorf, Switzerland at harvest time. She says that the Patterson’s pot looked potent, smelled good, and was well cured.
“It wasn’t very strong, but it helped medically,” Marlowe said. “They made sure it wasn’t contaminated or mishandled.”
Marlowe asked the sisters to send a kilo ? 2.2 pounds ? to her North Carolina home. She says prescription medicines for her aliments cause toxic reactions, and that marijuana was the only medicine that helped her fight off chronic pain, dizziness, and liver failure. Marijuana, and a small disability payment, she says, kept her alive.
In March 1998, drug dogs sniffed out Marlowe’s Swiss package at the airport. Police made a “controlled delivery” to Marlowe’s father. They forced him to call Marlowe, hovering in the background with guns at the ready if he tipped her off about the perils that awaited if she came to collect the package.
Marlowe went to her dad’s house, took the package from him, got in her car, and started to drive home. Police swooped down on her, seizing her car and her medicine.
“I told them that US regulations allowed me to import a personal use amount of medicine approved in another country, even if it wasn’t approved in this country. The state charged me, but they said that if my medical records checked out, they wouldn’t do anything,” Marlowe explained recently. “I told them I wanted my medicine and my car returned. They didn’t like that.”
In April 1998, Marlowe’s brother committed suicide. She went to the hospital with his body. Overcome with grief, she stepped out into the hospital’s parking lot, where she was accosted by a federal officer who told her the feds had taken over her case. Marlowe was put in chains, and taken into federal custody.
Marlowe said that the Pattersons told her and other patients that SWIHTCO would help anybody arrested due to a shipment of Swiss weed.
“They sent a little money, but not near enough,” Marlowe now says. “I had a public defender. He didn’t do his job. The judge wouldn’t buy my medical necessity defense. He said it wasn’t valid in the US, and that North Carolina didn’t think marijuana was a medicine. They accused me of being in conspiracy with myself to distribute marijuana to myself.”
Marlowe was found guilty of several felonies in June 1998, and sentenced to two years of probation with six months of house arrest. Even though she was living on a fixed income and could barely pay her rent, the judge ordered her to pay a $150 per month “probation fee.”
Without a car, heartbroken about her brother and her arrest, poor, and seriously ill, Marlowe had problems complying with draconian bail release conditions and federal probation guidelines.
“They said I violated my pre-sentence terms and they threw me into a cell for two weeks where I slept on the floor with no mattress, no covering, no pillow,” Marlowe recalls.
During Thanksgiving holidays in 1998, Marlowe was visited by federal med-pot recipient Elvy Musikka, a glaucoma patient who receives 300 marijuana cigarettes a month from the US government’s marijuana farm in Mississippi.
“On the day before Thanksgiving, my federal probation officer Jeff Nabor came over to put the electronic monitoring house arrest ankle bracelet on me,” Marlowe recalls. “He walks in and gets all weird because he smelled Elvy’s marijuana. He says, ?Hey, you’re using illegal drugs. You’re not supposed to be around illegal drugs or drug users.’ I told him, ?Look, Elvy has a prescription bottle from the US government, your employer, and it contains a bunch of marijuana cigarettes. I guess they must be legal, since your employer gave them to her.'”
The probation officer relented, but Marlowe was angry ? she began yelling at him.
“I said, ?When you took your job you said a pledge that you would uphold the constitution. How are you upholding the constitution by harassing a disabled woman?’ He said, ‘I’m just doing my job. I don’t have no choice.’ I said, ‘That’s bullshit. That excuse didn’t work at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, and it won’t work here.’ He was really angry at me when he left, and I think that’s why I got sent to prison later on,” Marlowe said.
Marlowe was sentenced to a ten-month prison term in early 2000, allegedly because her drug tests came back “positive” for marijuana. Marlowe says she was legally taking Marinol, a synthetic THC that makes drug testing a moot point.
“They knew I was on Marinol. I had a doctor’s prescription for it. They kept telling me my urine tests were dirty. Then Dr Tod Mikuriya wrote a letter and asked me to come to California to be in a medical marijuana experiment. The probation officer didn’t like that. He violated my probation and sent me to prison in February last year on a ten month sentence,” Marlowe said.
Marlowe reports that being in federal custody was extremely hazardous to her health. While she was in various holding pens and transfer facilities, she was allowed to use Marinol. But when she got to her final torture chamber, a federal prison camp in Alderson, West Virginia, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) decided to shut the door on her Marinol prescription.
“The doctors told me they wished they could give me Marinol, but the BOP had told them not to,” Marlowe says. “They gave me chemical drugs that made me sick. North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Congressman Charles Taylor asked them for months why they were trying to kill me, why they wouldn’t give me my medicine. I was in constant pain and dizzy. The BOP didn’t care if I died.”
Although she was ill most of the time, Marlowe’s federal prison sentence gave her an inside look at the effects of the war on drugs.
“Most of the women I was in with were non-violent first time offenders who were trying to deal with their belief in the justice system being destroyed. They were in for harmless drug crimes like me, or for white collar crimes, like the government said some secretary should have known that one of the companies she was handling was a criminal company. The women were in shock. They didn’t do anything violent, maybe they were talking on a tapped phone about dope, and now they’ve lost their families and children and their families are on food stamps, and there’s nobody there for the children. Their kids now have psychological problems because of what happened to their mom, who was a good person. Nobody in there, not even the guards, could understand why I was put in prison because of a plant,” Marlowe said.
Prison food was “full of fat and not nutritious, and the water smelled like shit and was full of chemicals,” so Marlowe ate little.
Her health deteriorated. She tried to appeal her sentence, and the denial of Marinol, to federal district court, but officials refused to help her. One judge told her to file a lawsuit against prison officials. She wishes she could, but needs thousands of dollars in funding for a lawyer.
Marlowe walked out of federal prison on January 22, grateful to shower in clean water, free from prison noise, injustice and chaos, free to use Marinol and medical marijuana. She wants to sue the US government, file an appeal of her criminal conviction, and move to a state where medical cannabis is legal.
“I wonder why what they did to me is not considered a crime,” Marlowe said, her voice colored by sadness and exhaustion. “In their official duties, they beat me down. I’ve been on this planet nearly half a century. If my government had had its way, I’d be dead.”