In a surrender ceremony turned rally, an El Dorado County medical marijuana physician and her attorney husband turned themselves in Monday to serve five years in federal prison.
Dozens of people massed outside the U.S. courthouse in Sacramento, demanding that President Barack Obama grant clemency to Dr. Marion P. “Mollie” Fry and husband Dale Schafer.
“Free God’s medicine!” Fry shouted.
“We love you Mollie!” the crowd hollered back.
Fry, a breast cancer survivor who ran a medical clinic in the rural town of Cool, and Schafer, an attorney who counseled marijuana patients, were convicted in 2008 for conspiring to produce and distribute marijuana.
Medical marijuana activists have portrayed the couple as heroes for healing who legally provided pot under California medical marijuana law.
Federal prosecutors said Fry and Schafer played on sympathy over Fry’s illness as they built a million-dollar enterprise, with Fry issuing medical recommendations and Schafer selling pot, using couriers and even the United Parcel Service.
While the couple were convicted on the basis of 110 marijuana plants between 1999 and 2001, prosecutors said they raked in $750,000 to $1 million selling marijuana recommendations.
Activists Monday also condemned their imprisonment in protests over U.S. marijuana policy at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.
“Today is really an affront to justice,” said Don Duncan, California director for Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group for medical marijuana users. “We’re demanding clemency for Dale and Molly. And we’re demanding an end to the war on the rest of sick and dying patients.”
Americans for Safe Access announced it was petitioning Obama to free the couple from an “unconscionable” term in federal prison.
People waved signs, “Patients, Not Prisoners” and “Free Doc Fry!” as Fry and Schafer stood with their five adult children as the minutes counted down to their 2 p.m. surrender.
“How should I feel about this when I’m leaving a very beautiful family behind, especially considering what I did?” Schafer asked, adding: “I grew marijuana for my wife and a handful of sick people.”
Fry said she began using marijuana to combat nausea during chemotherapy after a double mastectomy. She told the crowd: “I’m here before you because medical marijuana was the instrument … for my will to live.”
In a recent interview, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said the couple created a lucrative marijuana business while exploiting Fry’s illness to “make themselves into heroes for medical marijuana.”
The couple refused a plea bargain that would have spared Fry any time behind bars and given her husband 1 1/2 years. They will have to serve at least 85 percent or four years and three months of their five-year sentence.
They will be held at the Sacramento County jail until the U.S. Bureau of Prisons assigns them to penitentiaries.
The couple’s son, Jeffrey Schafer, said the case highlights the need for reform of federal marijuana laws.
“My only hope is that this travesty for my parents will light a fire under people,” he said.
Then his father said it was time to go to prison. The lawyer, doctor and their children walked into the courthouse. People cheered and sobbed.
“Here we go,” Schafer said. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”