It’s been two years and two months since Dr. Marion “Mollie” Fry and then husband, civil attorney Dale Schafer, surrendered to Federal authorities on May 2, 2011, for manufacturing and distributing medical cannabis in California. More than six years of litigation and three years of appeals rendered “no defense,” insuring mandatory five year federal prison terms, respectively.
In 2001 the Fry/Schafer family home, located in the hills just north of Sacramento, was raided by federal authorities under then-President George W. Bush, Jr. during the continued failed “War On Drugs.” Thirty-four plants were confiscated; 20 were infested with spider mites, sitting near a compost pile.
34 Plants in a Pile
According to Schafer, the couple had never grown more than 34 plants in a given year – well below the 99-plant limit set forth by the State of California for medical use – and never sold a leaf. A little known fact, he explained, is that under federal law more than 100 plants grown in a five-year period, accumulatively, is cause for the mandatory five-year sentence, overriding any state laws.
Dr. Fry, who had gone through a radical mastectomy just three years prior, had made the decision to grow her own medicine, medicating through her illness, surgery and continued to medicate from myriad complications from chemotherapy until the arrest. She began helping patients and advocating for the plant after realizing its benefits.Family Lineage of Medicine
Fry’s lineage includes seven generations of physicians. Family notables include, grandfather, Dr. Francis Marion Pottenger, Jr. celebrated for being at the forefront of curing tuberculosis in the early 1900s, and founding the field of internal medicine in the process.
Her grandmother studied under Carl Jung in the 1950s, founding a Jungian institute in Houston in the 1960s. Her mother also became a physician in the 1950s.
“When I was young my mother told me I could do whatever I choose to do with my life. She told me the United States of America is a free country,” Fry explained. “But, I was outspoken on this topic.”
Oldest Living Hemophiliac
Schafer is one of the oldest living hemophiliac patients in the country. Born with classic hemophilia A in 1954, he nearly bled to death during a tonsillectomy at six years of age. In his youth he fell and bled through to his left hip, leaving him with degenerative arthritis. Other injuries followed, leaving him arthritic in not just his hip, but both knees and left shoulder.
Treatment wasn’t developed until the 1960s and 70s, but entailed using plasma from donors fraught with the threat of disease, as blood pools weren’t checked until 1985 with the threat of AIDS.Despite his condition Schafer was drafted in 1975. The military removed all his wisdom teeth the next year, causing a severe bleed. The blood used was tainted, giving him Hepatitis C and an honorable discharge.
“He became an attorney to use his mind and save his body,” Fry said from prison. “He learned to take care of himself and avoid situations where he might bleed.”
His luck ran out in 1994 and a disabling disk injury led to back surgery. Weakened, and re-injured in 2002, Fry said by then she had discovered “medical marijuana.”
Cannabis for Pain
“We developed a serious cannabis pain treatment,” Fry explained. “He needed extremely high oral doses, so we chose kief from high grade buds. He ate one quarter to half a cup in the morning and the same dose at night.”
Fry said Schafer was not only able to control his lifelong pain, he kicked the highly addictive pharmaceuticals he had needed for years.
“His daily pain level was six. On his worst days it was nine out of 10,” Fry added. “Cannabis provided him with an acceptable pain level of two to three with no side effects. The only time he needed narcotics at all was, as needed, at night for sleep.”After the arrest cannabis was taboo. Fry said Schafer was forced to go back on prescription drugs with debilitating side-effects.
“Have you ever tried to concentrate and work on opiates?” Schafer said.
Schafer’s physician, Jerry Powell, is the leading hematologist and oncologist in the country, heading up both Oncology and Hemotology at U.C. Davis. Powell testified to the necessity of Marinol use in lieu of the morphine he was forced to be on for pain.
The U.S. Attorney’s rebuttal to the request included, not a doctor or specialist for cross examination, but an article published in a 1999 issue of Playboy magazine, which revealed marijuana users may abuse Marinol prescriptions as a cover for cannabis use, since there was no difference in the results of a drug test.
Mitch Fadel, President of the El Dorado County patient advocacy group, American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC) said the irony was that most of the Playboy article favored a situation such as Dale’s, sighting the substitute is legal, accepted by public opinion, and prescribed in all 50 states.
“The Government’s argument stated that Dale had an ‘almost impossible burden’ in proving he should be treated differently than ‘every other drug dealing defendant who comes before the Court.’ In that statement they referred to Dale as a drug dealer! I thought we were innocent until proven guilty?” Fadel said with disbelief.
NOT Drug Dealers
The “drug dealer” reference didn’t go away the entire length of the trial. In fact, Sacramento Bee reporter Peter Hecht raised the question in a pre-surrender article titled, “Martyrs or Drug Dealers?”“I wouldn’t use those two words when talking about medical marijuana in a million years,” Fadel continued. “Heroin, cocaine, and meth yes cannabis, no. This has nothing to do with drug dealers.”
At the day of surrender, Schafer’s pain management system included 600 milligrams of morphine in divided doses.
“My husband had to take 22 milligrams of Dilaudid every three hours for breakthrough pain, 15 milligrams of Dexedrine to get him out of bed, and other pills to control the side effects of nausea, depression, and muscle spasms,” Fry explained. “And all of that was substituted with cannabis prior.”
According to Fry/Schafer prior to the arrest they had conferred numerous times with local officials, State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and El Dorado County Sheriff, Detectives Timothy McNulty and Robert Ashworth, regarding the legality of their cannabis production for their own use and for Fry’s patients. Schafer sat on a committee specifically created to develop county ordinances on medical cannabis.“We weren’t selling the medical cannabis to my patients,” Fry said. “We had staff and were charging $10 for delivery only, and that’s a common practice today.”
Ultimately it was staff, Schafer said, who broke rules and ultimately they were responsible for all actions. That said, considering they were at the helm of medical cannabis in California – the first State to enact the law – they are considered “pioneers” in the field and much of what they did was trial and error, working the process out as they helped others.
“We fired anyone who wasn’t following the code of the law,” Schafer said. “One week before we were raided, two undercover Federal Agents attended a workshop for 215 cardholders we were holding at the local Grange Hall. The chef teaching the class allowed patients to go home with some of the edibles made, including the agents.”
Fry said comments were made during the class that may have been misunderstood by the agents, saying it was a comedy of errors with a not so amusing ending.
No Medical Defense
“The judge wouldn’t allow any medical evidence. They wouldn’t let us tell the jury I was sick, or that I was a doctor,” Fry said. “They wouldn’t allow that I was helping sick patients. Ironically, two years before the raid, local authorities asked me to tell them who of my patients were ‘really’ sick, and who wasn’t. I told them it wasn’t my job to police my patients, and that everyone who came to me had legitimate health issues. They have treated us like criminals.”
Education on the topic of medicinal cannabis, Fry/Schafer agree, is the true culprit in their court case. The couple chose activism to further the cause, something that may have added to their demise.“When I was in the thick of helping people, I knew it was the right thing to do,” she said. “Cannabis helped me immensely when I was going through cancer treatments.”
After ten years of defending themselves the couple has more questions than answers.
“Cannabis is proven medicine,” Fry declared. “Why would the State of California create laws based on what the people want, and then allow the Federal Government to override them? I had cancer, we were growing medicine. I was helping people.”
Drug Treatment Dropout
Upon incarceration Fry was given an opportunity to shave 18 months off her five year sentence by entering a Drug Treatment Program within the prison grounds.
“They moved me into another building designated for the Drug Treatment Program,” she writes from prison on simple ruled paper. “It’s a building that would normally hold 50 or 60 people, but there are more than 150 inmates here. While I’m in this building the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) is reimbursed by the State at double the cost for me to be here, but I won’t get credit for doing the program for one year. The entire way its run seems illegal.”
Fry said the peer-run program is dominated by fellow inmates. “My personal well-being and, so called, ‘recovery’ is in the hands of unskilled, convicted felons! I’ve been told there is no freedom of speech here, so I must go along if I want less time. Do I have to do this?” she pondered, prior to a decision to drop out of the program.
Her principles intact, it’s important to note that Fry is the only physician in the country to pass on a plea bargain and serve a Federal sentence for Cannabis in a legal state.
In prison Fry said she has God to see her through. A devout Catholic, Fry knows that cannabis is God’s medicine, she won’t deny it, and He will protect and guide her.Dr. Fry’s license to practice has been revoked for some time now, as has her husband’s license to practice law, but that’s not stopping Fry from looking to the future.
“I’d like to travel when I get out of here,” she said. “I’m eager to begin my life again and help people. That’s my calling. That’s what God intends for my life.”
While Schafer learns to play guitar at Taft Federal Prison, Fry strengthens her walk with God, working on a reference book titled, “God’s Medicine.”
“He made this plant for us,” Fry surmises, ending with part of a poem she wrote:
God’s might give purpose to my life.
His perfection makes my sacrifice small.
Creation reflects His infinite power,
I am honored to be a small part of the solution.
Free God’s medicine!”
Cool Madness, a book written about the trial by author Vanessa Williams, is available online on Amazon.com, or directly on www.lulu.com/product/paperback/cool-madness.
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Editor’s note: Sharon Letts began her love of gardening in Southern California by her mother’s side, watching as she buried fish heads at the base of roses.
At 24, Sharon hung her shingle, “Secret Garden,” planting flower beds for dainty ladies. Gardening led to producing and writing for television with “Secret Garden Productions.”
Today Sharon continues to write about gardening and all that implies, advocating for the bud, and writing for many magazines, including DOPE (Defending Our Patients Everywhere).
She also pens “Road Trip: In Search of Good Medicine,” touring MMJ states, following the Green Rush.