Jan Pleas was seriously injured on July 4, 1979, when a fragment from an Independence Day firecracker flew into her left eye, damaging it permanently. The resulting glaucoma caused Pleas a level of pain that she could equate only with the pain she experienced in giving natural childbirth to a 21 inch diameter baby. The difference, of course, is that the pain of childbirth is temporary and short-term, whereas Pleas's glaucoma is permanent and constant.
Pleas tried all kinds of medicines and underwent surgery several times, to no avail. Jan Pleas lived a life of constant torment, until she was introduced to marijuana at a party. When she smoked it, according to Pleas's attorney Don Fiedler, the severe pain in her eye subsided and "for the first time she could make love to her husband."
Now a 37 year old mother of two teenagers, Pleas was convicted in an Iowa District Court last August for possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in prison, and not having a tax stamp for the marijuana, a felony carrying up to five years.
Fiedler, who served for two years as national director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), says that in cases with similar convictions, defendants in this district typically are sentenced to probation only. He has filed a motion for new trial, however, based primarily on the fact that Judge Richardson did not instruct the jury to consider the "medical necessity" defense Fiedler had presented. If Richardson rejects the motion it will be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court after the October 11 sentencing date.
Iowa's necessity defense originated many years ago when a farmer, charged with shooting a deer, a protected species in Iowa, claimed that the deer would have eaten all his produce if he hadn't shot it. Since then, the necessity defense has been expanded to include acts of man in addition to acts of nature. Had Judge Richardson allowed the medical necessity argument to be presented to the jury, it would have been the first test of this defense in an Iowa courtroom.
DRCNet strongly suggests that letters sent to Judge Richardson not include arguments for the legalization of marijuana; this issue is not within the judge's purview to decide, and bombarding him with those kinds of arguments could be counterproductive and inimical to the best interests of the defendant. Instead, we ask that supporters express their concern to Judge Richardson that he decided a question -- whether medical necessity existed -- that should have been decided by a jury.
We suggest the following line of reasoning: Ample evidence was available that a medical necessity existed, but the Court still did not allow the necessity defense to be presented to the jury. The Court cited evidence on treatments and medicines available to the patient that were not utilized; however, Dr. Yablonski of the University of Nebraska ophthalmology department testified that these treatments were not medically viable. How then can they be legally viable? At least shouldn't a jury decide this question? Richardson's refusal to allow this testimony and instruct the jury to decide whether necessity truly existed violated the defendant's right to a trial by a jury of her peers. Instead, Judge Richardson became the jury; Richardson should therefore allow Pleas's motion for a new trial.
Above all, please be respectful. Jan Pleas's life is in Judge Richardson's hands, and the last thing we want to do is anger him. Send your letters to:
Judge James Richardson
You could also send letters to the local media:
DRCNet thanks Iowa NORML for information on this case.
From The Activist Guide, Issue #3, September '94, DRCNet Publications section, A Guided Tour of the War on Drugs home page.
The next article is: Medical Marijuana: Federal Legislation Needed.