Pubdate: Thu, 24 Mar 2005
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Copyright: 2005 Boulder Weekly
Author: Joel Warner
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Despite Run-Ins With The Law, Denver's Curies Of Cannabis Light Up For A 
Good Cause

The tale of the Colorado Compassion Club begins with a couple of 
antagonistic tree trimmers. As the story goes, in the summer of 2004, a 
Denver resident, whom we shall call Frank, told a few tree trimmers he 
would pay for their services in marijuana. The trimmers knew Frank was good 
for it. All they had to do was look into his house to spot his pot-hundreds 
and hundreds of plants. When the tree trimmers' work was complete, however, 
Frank apparently failed to pay up. So the trimmers took matters into their 
own hands, namely making off with some of Frank's marijuana plants. 
Incensed, Frank called the cops, which, in hindsight, might not have been 
the best decision. When police officers arrived at Frank's home, they were 
less interested his tale of mischievous tree trimmers than they were in the 
fact that he had hundreds of pot plants growing all over his crib. When the 
cops tried to take the plants, Frank told them they'd have to go through 
the Drug Enforcement Agency. Bad idea number two. Frank ended up with 
federal agents crawling all over his cannabis arboretum.

To lessen the heat, Frank told the authorities he'd rat out others who'd 
helped him grow his sizable marijuana garden. Frank's admissions led North 
Metro Drug Task Force officers and federal drug agents to the door of a 
low-lying red-brick bungalow in a neighborhood of low-lying red-brick 
bungalows in east Denver at 10:30 p.m. on June 1, 2004. The home belonged 
to Thomas and Larisa Lawrence. Thomas is just over six feet, with 
light-blue eyes, brown hair tied in a ponytail and a soul patch plummeting 
from his lower lip. Larisa is small and pretty, with straight brown hair. 
At the time, both were inside the house celebrating Thomas' grandmother's 
72nd birthday.

The officers asked Thomas and Larissa if they could search the premises. 
What happened next is in dispute. Larisa says she asked to see a search 
warrant. She says the officers responded that they didn't need one because 
of the PATRIOT Act-but that they would be happy to get one, provided that 
Thomas, Larisa and all their guests didn't mind being locked out of the 
house for six hours while they whipped one up. Jeff Dorschner, spokesperson 
for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver, unequivocally denies such a 
conversation ever took place. He says Thomas and Larisa must have given the 
officers permission to search the premises.

Whatever the circumstances, the officers searched the house. The 
investigation turned up 84 young pot plants in the basement, 12 ounces of 
loose marijuana and six pounds of ice in the freezer that contained 
marijuana plant matter.

It appeared that Thomas and Larisa were unusually over-achieving stoners, 
but that wasn't the case. Thanks to a combination of football injuries and 
a degenerative spinal condition, Thomas suffers from migraines and back 
pain. He can't stand prescription narcotics, especially since they leave 
him too doped up to run his home-improvement business. The only thing that 
seems to help is marijuana, which dulls his pain and thins his blood, 
leading to less migraines. The "medicine," as Thomas and Larisa call it, 
works so well that the two moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Colorado 
in 2001 because of the Centennial State's more lenient marijuana laws.

The year before, Colorado had passed Amendment 20, which allows people to 
be licensed to use marijuana to alleviate debilitating conditions including 
cancer, AIDS, severe pain and seizures. The law allows a licensed marijuana 
patient to usually possess no more than six marijuana plants and two ounces 
of usable marijuana-much less than what the authorities found in Thomas and 
Larisa's house.

But Thomas wasn't just growing for himself, he was providing for other 
patients. Word had gotten around that Thomas was growing some good 
medicine, and many patients specified Thomas as their state-certified 
caregiver. Frank had been one of Thomas' patients, albeit one with whom 
Thomas had severed all ties because of a disagreement long before the cops 
came knocking on his door. At the time of the raid, Thomas estimates he was 
providing medicine for 11 licensed patients and about 20 more who were in 
the process of getting licensed-more than enough, he says, to legally 
justify his ganja garden.

The feds didn't see it that way. After mulling about the property for 
several hours, they confiscated all the marijuana, plus lights, heaters and 
books used in the operation. They allowed Thomas to keep his collection of 
one-of-a-kind bongs and roach clips. Thanks to the raid, Thomas and Larissa 
lost between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of property and gained a reputation 
around the neighborhood for being the focus of a federal drug bust. While 
Thomas and Larisa have not been charged with any crime, their property 
remains confiscated.

Weird science

Whatever the officers hoped to gain from the raid, they didn't stop Thomas 
and Larisa from growing their medicine. Instead they caused these Curies of 
cannabis to go official-by starting the Colorado Compassion Club.

"We are not trying to say, 'How can we grow as much pot as we can,'" says 
Thomas. "We are trying to make sure patients and caregivers have some 
access to medicine, and make it as cost effective as possible."

Today there are 587 people licensed to use medical marijuana in Colorado-32 
in Boulder-but the law doesn't specify how they are supposed to get the 
pot. The most obvious ways of doing so seem to be scoring a dime bag in 
Centennial Park or spending hundreds of dollars and six months growing pot 
from seed in a closet. But now, through Thomas and Larisa's Colorado 
Compassion Club, a consortium of about 70 patients and caregivers that's 
rapidly growing, there's another option.

Sorry, run-of-the-mill stoners: Prospective Colorado Compassion Club 
members need to be either a licensed marijuana patient or in the process of 
obtaining a license. Thomas, Larisa or other caregivers in the club work 
with club patients, discussing their conditions and what type and dose of 
marijuana might be appropriate. Everything is recorded on extremely 
detailed paperwork-so if there's ever another raid, Thomas and Larisa will 
have the proof they're not drug lords. The club provides members from 
Carson City to Grand Lake with medicine or helps them build and maintain 
their own grow rooms. It's all based on donations, and the club is hoping 
to get nonprofit status. If a member can't pay in cash, they volunteer time 
helping the club produce medicine, or donate clippings from their own 
plants, if they grow their own.

Thomas and Larisa's bungalow is the club's center of operations, a sort of 
communal hospital-cum-greenhouse-cum-pharmacy. Club members stop over all 
the time to help out, chill out or toke up. The living room feels like a 
rain forest, filled with large plants, ceremonial masks, roaming cats and 
dogs and an unmistakable heavy aroma in the air. But the important greenery 
lies downstairs, in a small room with bare white walls. This is where the 
magic happens.

"I think the love and care we put into the plants produces a different 
quality of medicine. You have to love the plant," says Thomas, as he stands 
in the basement room. Around his feet spreads a thick carpet of young 
marijuana plants, each labeled by type-Chocolate Chunk, Ultimate Indica, 
Chronic Maple Leaf, Humboldt Snow, G13, White Lightning-Thomas cracks up in 
the middle of listing the varieties-Bubblegum, Bubble Funk, Shiskaberry, 
Dutch Treat. A fan blows gently through the leaves, and a large circular 
metal grow light hangs overhead, traveling slowly back and forth on a 
motorized track attached to the ceiling. There's a stereo in the 
corner-some volunteers like to play rock for the plants; Thomas prefers 

In the room's closet, Thomas runs his genetics lab. Here, tiny plant 
clippings grow in small containers, all part of Thomas' experiments in 
cloning and cross-breeding the cannabis to produce varieties with specific 
medicinal qualities-some to increase hunger, some to dull pain, some to 
ease muscle spasms.

When the plants are large enough, Thomas will move them to a large 
greenhouse in the backyard. There they will grow for most of the summer; 
when they're harvested, they'll probably be over six feet tall. Neighbors 
warn their kids to stay away from the unusual greenery poking over the fence.

Along with marijuana and hash for smoking, the club produces brownies, 
muffins and fudge, all made with a specific amount of cannabis, so patients 
can take regular dosages-"Take two pot brownies and call me in the 
morning." While most tokers just use cannabis flowers, the Colorado 
Compassion Club also harvests the plant's leaves, which offer many of the 
same medicinal qualities with less of the intoxicating side effects. So if 
you don't feel like smoking, there's a myriad of other ways to take your 
medicine: teas, tinctures, topical rubs, lotions, cooking oils, creams, 
compresses and even hard candy.

"It doesn't have to be about sitting around and taking bong hits," says 
Larisa. "Though it is your right to do so."

If Thomas is the mad scientist in the basement, Larisa is the Mother 
Theresa in the living room. She prefers working with the patients, finding 
out how to best meet their needs, helping them cope. She says she's watched 
many people heal before her eyes.


For Thomas and Larissa, running the Colorado Compassion Club is a full-time 
job-especially since they aren't about to receive much support from local 

Thomas learned this the hard way in January. He was driving home one 
evening when a cop pulled him over. The officer found an ounce of "Kahuna 
Salad" marijuana and two pipes in the glove compartment. Since Thomas 
didn't have his caregiver license on him, the cops were somewhat skeptical 
when he told them it was medicine.

Once again, Thomas' medicine was taken by the Man-but this time, he was 
determined to get it back. In February, Thomas walked into the police 
station with a court property disposition for his weed and pipes. The 
police laughed in his face. They said his disposition was fake, that he was 
trying to steal illicit drugs from the cops. Not even a call from the City 
Attorney's Office could sway the officers. There was no way the Denver 
police were going to start handing out Mary Jane to needy citizens.

A month later, on March 4, Thomas returned to the police station, armed 
with a new court order, his lawyer and the press. He picked up the phone in 
the station lobby and said, "Hi. I need to pick up some property."

This time the police were more cooperative. Thomas became the first person 
ever to receive drugs from the Denver police.

"What happened was a victory for all patients and caregivers in Colorado. 
It was a victory for everyone who voted to get the law enabled," says 
Thomas. The only problem with the returned medicine, Thomas told a 
journalist at the scene, was "It's a little dryer than I'd like."

Thomas and Larisa have big plans for the Colorado Compassion Club. Both are 
taking naturopath courses, and talk all the time about creating a wellness 
center for the club, where members have access to health spas and even 
hospice rooms. Reaching that goal won't be easy, especially since the 
Colorado Compassion Club probably hasn't seen the last of its run-ins with 
the authorities.

One possible reason federal attorneys have yet to charge Thomas and Larissa 
for the 83 plants they found in their house last year could be because they 
are waiting for an upcoming decision in the Supreme Court case Ashcroft vs. 
Raich, which will decide on the federal government's ability to supercede 
state medical marijuana laws. If the court rules in the fed's favor, people 
like Thomas and Larisa could be looking at federal prosecution-maybe even 
prison time.

Thomas isn't too worried. He doesn't expect to be thrown in the clink for 
growing some supreme weed.

"Here in Denver, I don't see them being able to convict me under a jury of 
my peers," he says, relaxing on his living room couch while, behind him, a 
few visiting club members sit around the kitchen table, munching on 
take-out fried chicken and packing a glass bong. "All I am trying to do is 
help people who can't help themselves."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom