Prosecutors dropped criminal charges today against a Palm Beach County man who had claimed a medicinal marijuana defense in a case that could have sent him to prison for five years for growing pot plants.
Jeffrey Kennedy, a 53-year-old Boynton Beach resident, had turned down a plea deal in the case in the hopes that his medicinal marijuana defense could set a legal precedent in Florida, where such cases are rare.
"For 18 months, I have been so worried about losing my home, my wife, my life,"
Kennedy said today after a court hearing in which prosecutors announced they would drop the charges. "We can get back to normal, if I can find what normal is again."
Problems began for Kennedy in 1999, when he tripped over a wire left in his yard by a cable guy. He fell and broke two disks in his back, requiring surgery that failed to fix his chronic pain. Doctors prescribed pain pills that gave him severe mood swings and failed to fix the pain he felt in his back, legs, and feet.
Kennedy hadn't considered pot until about six years ago, when a stranger in a doctor's office waiting room asked: "Ever try dope?"
"I told the guy, 'Yeah, but I gave that up years ago. Does it work?' He gave me a joint, and I went home that day and smoked half of it." For the first time since the accident, the pain was gone. "I thought, 'Wow, this is the most amazing thing.'"
Kennedy began buying pot from dealers. But hoping to cut down on the costs of his newfound medicine, Kennedy said he decided about five years ago to start growing it. He ordered a book from Amazon.com on how to grow medical marijuana and set up a small farm out by his pool.
But on August 29, 2009, Kennedy came home in the afternoon to find his front door open. Fearing a burglar, he called the cops. While searching the home, they found his plants and arrested him on charges of trafficking and of cultivating 26 marijuana plants.
Prosecutors later dropped the trafficking charges and offered Kennedy a deal: plead guilty and he'd walk away with just three years' probation, which would require him to take monthly drug tests. If he smoked dope during that time, he'd likely go to prison.
Kennedy's daughter urged him to take the deal, fearing her father could end up in prison. But by then, Kennedy had begun an internet and email campaign, rallying pro-pot forces to his cause. "I wrote my daughter a letter explaining why I couldn't take the deal," Kennedy says, breaking down in tears. "I told her that I'd be letting everyone down, and I just couldn't let anyone else go through what happened to me."
Kennedy says prosecutors called his attorney, Michael Minardi, again yesterday asking if Kennedy would take the deal. By then, Minardi had lined up a series of nationwide experts -- brain surgeons, medicinal marijuana users, and others -- who were ready to testify. Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Karen Miller had yet to rule on whether jurors could hear the medicinal marijuana defense when the case went to trial, which was scheduled for May 2.
So prosecutors relented and agreed to drop the charges before a 10:30 hearing this morning on Minardi's motion to dismiss.
"I broke down; I cried for probably 30 minutes," Kennedy says of when he heard. "The stress was just gone, just gone. It felt so good. This fight I have been fighting for 18 months paid off. I didn't fold, I didn't flinch, I didn't take their deal."
Karen Goldstein, president of NORML of South Florida, hopes the case will encourage others to use a medicinal marijuana defense to fight criminal pot charges. "We hoped if this case had gone further that it would set a legal precedent in Florida," Goldstein said. "But either way, we are so happy for Jeff."
Minardi says this isn't the first time a medicinal marijuana case has won in Florida. Two cases out of the First District Court of Appeal from 1991 and 1998 established that defendants could argue a medicinal marijuana defense. But no cases have gone before the Florida Supreme Court, which would establish for good the defense statewide. "Hopefully," Minardi said, "other people, if they have legitimate medical reasons, will be able to use this defense."
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Asked if he's going to continue smoking weed, Kennedy replied: "I plead the Rick Scott. Rick Scott took the fifth 72 times in a court case. So I take the Rick Scott."