The Washington Post

Another glorious drug war victory

Perhaps you thought the drug war couldn’t get any crueler . . . 

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 . . .

According to, 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.

So many at fault here — the prosecutor, for cruelly bringing this case in the first place; the legislature, for passing these laws; the judge, for refusing to let the jury hear about Mackenzie’s condition. And of course there are the drug warriors in general, who are willing to tolerate the occasional gunning down of a man in his own home or imprisoning of a suffering, lesion-covered cancer patient in order to demonstrate their opposition to getting high.


Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."



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Radley Balko · July 8, 2014