Robert Clyde Crouse — "Bob" to his friends — went to grade school, junior high and high school in Colorado Springs. Later he attended the University of Colorado, and much later than that opened Yakibob's on Fillmore Street, which he ran for years before a fall off a ladder, four years ago, sent him to the hospital.
There, Bob learned a few things: First, that he had five broken ribs and a punctured lung; second, that his blood work had come back positive for chronic lymphocytic leukemia; and third, that his personal health insurance wouldn't cover the accident because it occurred in the workplace.
"So I got $50,000, $60,000 worth of medical bills for an injury, and then found out I have leukemia and no insurance," says Crouse in a recent phone conversation, where his tone varies from fatalistically amused to completely outraged. "Without having any kind of resources to mount a Western-medicine battle against it, and really not being all that excited about putting those kinds of things in my body — just the side effects ... they're horrific — I treat myself."
By treatment, the Springs resident means medical marijuana, or hemp oil. And it's not cheap, or at least it wouldn't be if Crouse went retail. To make a month's worth of oil requires more than a pound of marijuana — which, even considering today's relatively low prices, would mean a cost of at least $3,200.
So Crouse grew his own. And he grew way more than the six plants that Colorado's Amendment 20 sets as a default — he grew 75 plants. Crucially, though, he did it with the physician recommendation needed, because the amendment also states: "For quantities of marijuana in excess of these amounts, a patient or his or her primary care-giver may raise as an affirmative defense to charges of violation of state law that such greater amounts were medically necessary to address the patient's debilitating medical condition."
It all worked fairly well for Crouse: growing, harvesting and making hemp oil he ingested orally. His cancer remained in the chronic, not acute, stage, and the MMJ helped him deal with his upper body pain.
Then in May, Colorado Springs Police Department officers knocked on his door, suspicious of his peaking utility bill, among other things. Crouse couldn't produce up-to-date patient renewal paperwork; he'd only recently been notified that the state had rejected it, because his recommending physician listed one address on one form, and a second on another.
So he was arrested for tending an illegal marijuana grow.
Now, the 63-year-old finds himself on the sharp end of another unenviable stick: prosecution by maybe the most rabidly anti-MMJ district attorney in Colorado, Dan May. The DA has charged Crouse with felony cultivation of 30 or more marijuana plants, and possession with intent to distribute, confirms the department's community outreach director, Lee Richards.
What Richards won't comment on is the prospect of a 63-year-old leukemia patient being prosecuted over an apparent paperwork mix-up that could lead to up to six years in prison. It's not a fact Crouse finds easily reconcilable.
"Remember the movie Independence Day, with Will Smith?" he asks. "So, the president finally finds out they've got one of these aliens out there in some area, and he goes down asking what it is that they want from us humans. And the creature says, 'To die.' And that's just how I feel. Ever since these people came into my home, I've been treated as a criminal."
Crouse doesn't want to talk too much about the strategy of his public defender, but did say it revolves, in part, around the aforementioned "outrage"; in part, around the previously quoted section of Amendment 20; and, in part, around the case of one Jason Lauve.
"Rolling out of the Boulder County Justice Center in a wheelchair Thursday with a jumble of once-confiscated pot in his lap, Jason Lauve smiled and waved to supporters after a jury acquitted him of possessing too much medical marijuana," reads an Aug. 6, 2009 report from the Daily Camera.
Lauve had the same recommendation from a doctor that Crouse has, and the jury agreed it was a good defense. We played phone tag with Lauve for a little while before running into press time, but he did comment on our website regarding Crouse's case: "This is attempted murder and we as patients must bring a lawsuit against these individuals charging them with attempted murder."
Crouse says he's never been back to a doctor to have his cancer looked at, or to test the efficacy of his regimen. But he's confident it's working, saying he can feel himself healing his cancer as he continues to medicate using donations from supporters.
But it's not just the plant's by-product that was improving the quality of the man's life. It was the plant itself.
"Because you can go in [your garden] and escape what's going on in your body — you just get lost. It was my therapy," Crouse says. "They came and took my therapy away from me, they took my meds away from me, and told me to die! They told me I could either go to jail and die, or that I didn't have to go to jail and I could die. But they were not gonna let me have my medicine."
It's this palpable frustration that Crouse spends his time trying to overcome, going so far as to ask himself how he can better pray for the prosecuting authorities. It's an admirable effort from a guy who's in the process of having his home repossessed due to unrelated financial issues, not to mention everything else, including a court date on Oct. 20.
"We're people — we're not lepers!" says Crouse. "Every day I gotta fight for my life, with the cancer, and every day I've gotta fight for my right to fight for my life."