HIV-Positive Man Wins Acquittal In Texas’ First Cannabis Medical Necessity Defense — NORML Legal Committee Member Leads Defense

Amarillo, TX: NORML Legal Committee member Jeff Blackburn won an acquittal for a man charged with possession of marijuana, by successfully raising a medical necessity defense, believed to be the first to be accepted in Texas courts.

Defendant Tim Stevens, 53, had never been in legal trouble until Amarillo police arrested him for possessing less than 4 grams of marijuana. Mr. Stevens†is HIV-positive and uses medical marijuana in conjunction with his anti-viral medications.

Defense expert Dr. Steve Jenison, Medical Director of the Infectious Diseases Bureau for the Department of Health in New Mexico, carried the day with his testimony. Dr. Jenison detailed his success with the New Mexico medical marijuana program in treating severe symptoms, particularly nausea and cyclical vomiting, that plague many HIV / AIDS and cancer patients—for many of whom no effective medicinal alternative exists. “[Jenison]…was a dynamite witness,” Blackburn said. “All of this evidence came together and made for a solid defense case — one strong enough for us to get an instruction to the jury that they should acquit if they had a reasonable doubt about medical necessity.”

“We prepared a very extensive presentation about the medical benefits of marijuana,” Blackburn continued. “We relied on clearly established scientific studies and approaches, all of which show that there are distinct benefits derived from the use of inhaled marijuana.”  The jury was out only eleven minutes before reaching a unanimous verdict of “not guilty.” County attorney Scott Brumley called the verdict “unfortunate.” “I respect the jury’s verdict. … That doesn’t mean I agree with it,” he said.

Blackburn, who also serves as chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, which seeks to identify and exonerate innocent people who have been mistakenly convicted and imprisoned, believes that this victory can be replicated in other states as well. “Nearly all states have some variant of the old common law necessity defense.”

For more information, please contact NORML Legal Director Keith Stroup at 202-483-5500.