Uniting States of Marijuana: the country's evolving laws on cannabis
All Newman resident Phillip Blanton wanted to do, he said, was bring some comfort to his granddaughter, who has stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But his California medical marijuana card counted for nothing in Texas, where the 67-year-old now faces felony drug possession charges.
Blanton was driving to Houston to see 20-year-old Makayla Farley, who’s being treated at the Houston Methodist Hospital cancer center. She’s fighting for her life, he said, has a hard time eating and is always throwing up. She’s on morphine and other drug cocktails for pain. “I was going to give her Papa’s cookies to help with the nausea and pain and to help her relax.”
On the way, though, he was pulled over by a state trooper for speeding on Jan. 1 in Decatur, north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Blanton said when he expressed surprise at getting pulled over for driving maybe 3 miles per hour over the limit, the trooper said they often stop cars with California and Colorado plates because drugs frequently are brought into Texas from those states.
Right upfront, and while showing the officer his hands, palms up, Blanton said he had a gun on the seat next to him because he has a concealed weapon permit. The officer had him get out of the vehicle while he checked the permit, which came up clean.
My granddaughter means more to me than some stupid Texas law that would rather she suffer. I was doing this out of compassion and for all the right reasons.
Asked if he had any illegal drugs, Blanton said no, he had prescriptions for all his medications. He said he had a marijuana pipe in his console. “As soon as he saw it, he said that under Texas law, that was probable cause to search the car,” Blanton said.
In his trunk, Blanton had a suitcase full of prescription drugs, including the powerful narcotic painkiller hydrocodone and medications for glaucoma, high cholesterol and heartburn resulting from a hiatal hernia.
Sitting next to the suitcase, Blanton said, were four ounces of marijuana and five or six dozen pot-laced cookies. And right there with them was the 8 1/2 -by-11-inch signed and stamped order from his doctor showing the pot was for medical reasons. Blanton also had his medical marijuana card.
“So he doesn’t arrest me for the hydrocodone, but for my medical marijuana,” Blanton said in a phone interview from Houston on Monday. “I said, ‘This is not recreational, it’s not to sell on your streets. I happen to be a legal patient and have used it for 10 years.’ ... He would not accept my card and prescription, but he did accept my gun permit. Why accept one part of the law and not all of it?”
Now, Blanton said, he faces a felony charge for the 4 ounces of marijuana and a felony for the cookies. He said the cookie possession charge was made a felony based on the weight of the baked goods: 400 grams. “I don’t have even an ounce of weed in all those cookies,” he said. “It’s not realistic at all.”
After his arrest, Blanton spent a night in jail. The next day, Monday, Jan. 2, was the federal New Year’s holiday, and banks weren’t open so he could get his share of the $20,000 bond. A friend in Modesto posted it, so Blanton was freed and continued to Houston.
Blanton’s daughter Rhadena Farley, Makayla’s mother, launched an online fundraising campaign to help pay her father’s legal bills. It’s on fundedjustice.com, called “Help save Papa Phil from jail.”
His medical pot remained with the authorities, of course – but they also kept all his prescription meds. He was in bed for a week because he felt so poorly without his medicine, Blanton said. He called repeatedly and eventually was told the medicines would be released but he’d have to come get them. The same Modesto friend convinced authorities to release the drugs to the bail bond company, which shipped them to Houston, Blanton said.
Still, he’s suffering without his medical marijuana, which he takes for depression and anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep apnea, among other things, he said.
He’s allowed to return to California, and can get more pot once home, but he intends to stay in Texas a few more weeks. He’s had marijuana advocacy groups, including Campaign for Compassion, reach out to him in support, and Blanton plans to join the groups for a rally at the state Capitol in Austin early next month.
He misjudged Texas when he decided to carry the pot to his granddaughter, Blanton said. He had read about Texas medical pot laws on the internet and was encouraged by initiatives being brought forth by advocates. “I thought, look, even in their own Legislature they have people who want to bring it into law.” He said he viewed the state as being on the same track as California, just behind by a few years.
“So I thought, they’re open-minded, would understand what’s going on with my granddaughter. I thought, I’m not doing anything wrong.”
Blanton’s been told it could be six months before he’s back in court. As for what he could face if convicted, “I don’t know exactly, they didn’t tell me,” he said. “But on the internet looked what charges for felony marijuana possession carry, and I saw two years or more, plus fines, for each felony. I could get four or five years, 10 years, I don’t know. But I am not going to plea bargain – this is going to go to trial or they’re going to toss it out.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327