KEN UNGER ADMITS HIS USE OF CANNABIS IS FOR PAIN RELIEF
BY SHANE ANTHONY • firstname.lastname@example.org > 636-255-7209 | Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 12:35 am
Feb. 14, 2011–Ken Unger, 52, of O’Fallon, Mo., says he grew marijuana to treat his persistent back pain. On Sept. 9, 2010, police raided Unger’s home and he was charged with felony possession of marijuana. Dawn Majors email@example.com
State-by-state look at medical marijuana laws
O’FALLON, MO. • A Navy veteran who says he used marijuana to ease constant pain wants St. Charles County prosecutors to drop a felony charge that accuses him of growing the drug.
Ken Unger, 52, of the first block of Hornbean Court in O’Fallon, was charged in September with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
His arrest came around the time prosecutors decided to drop charges against Kenneth Wells, a St. Charles County man who grew pot in his house for what he said was medicinal use. Now Unger is asking for the same treatment in his case and is supported by an Oakland, Calif., organization known as Green Aid: The Medical Marijuana Legal Defense and Education Fund. Unger’s case is featured on the organization’s website.
Unger said he used marijuana to control pain without prescription painkillers such as morphine. He said prescription drugs provided little relief and interfered with caring for his 12-year-old son.
“He deserves more from me than somebody sitting there completely plowed all day long on heavy narcotics,” Unger said.
St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas said his office had not been contacted by Unger or his attorney, Ruth Beerup, regarding a medical marijuana defense.
“Until such time we are contacted by counsel or the defendant, we’re proceeding as we normally would with this particular charge,” Banas said. He declined to comment further.
Unger said he was serving in the Navy in Grenada in 1983 when he was struck on the head by a crane hook. The blow compressed his spine, he said, and the injuries led to chronic, painful health problems that prevent him from working.
Unger said he eventually started using painkillers prescribed by Veterans Administration doctors.
Police searched Unger’s home in September after receiving information he was growing marijuana.
Police said they found 48 marijuana root systems in Unger’s basement. Unger says police actually found two marijuana plants and about four root systems.
Unger said prosecutors offered to recommend five years of probation and 30 days in jail if he agreed to plead guilty. He said he can’t take that deal, though, because it would require drug testing, and he can’t go back to using morphine.
“I’m not living like that anymore,” he said. “Living on morphine is like being dead.”
Unger may face an uphill battle challenging the law. Wells was released because prosecutors said they were concerned a jury might be sympathetic to his plight. Banas warned at the time, though, that others should not assume they could grow marijuana with impunity.
Missouri law does not allow medical use as a defense, said Ben Trachtenberg, visiting associate professor of law at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
“In most states, claiming you want to use marijuana for medical purposes is not a defense to marijuana crimes,” he said.
Trachtenberg pointed to a 2008 Missouri Court of Appeals case from Kansas City that said a necessity defense for medical marijuana was not allowed because the state Legislature classified marijuana as a restricted controlled substance that had high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use for treatment.
Angela Bacca, media coordinator for Green Aid, said the organization is helping Unger in the hope that his case will set a precedent.
“He doesn’t have any choice but to fight,” Bacca said.
A preliminary hearing is set for March 9.