By Terrie Best – Court Support Coordinator, San Diego Americans for Safe Access
San Diego, CA – Dennis and Deborah Little are a retired couple dealing with life-threatening illnesses who became medical cannabis patients and sought cover under California’s voter approved Proposition 215, the ballot measure which allowed ill patients to use medical cannabis without threat of prosecution.
The legal cover the Littles sought from Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act was the ability to grow and use their own medical cannabis, under a doctor’s recommendation, to alleviate symptoms of neuropathy, depression and arthritis, Mr. Little’s ailments; Deborah Little’s ordeal – the likes of which we can all agree prompted the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 – include 20 years of living with HIV/AIDS and fighting HPV cancer since 2004.
The Littles both went on disability from their illnesses after retiring from long careers in accounting and contracting. They live on eight acres in rural Ramona and when not at doctor appointments and clinics for their health they spend their days raising Bengal cats, and gardening. Dennis grows roses and when his pain is not too bad you will find him in his rose garden pruning and caring for his prize flowers.
It was Dennis’ love of gardening and his suffering wife that motivated him to try growing medical cannabis. The couple obtained doctor recommendations and then sought to grow a strain of medicine effective in reducing Deborah’s HIV/AIDS symptoms such as weight loss and pain, but also to alleviate the stress which was affecting her immune system, making her vulnerable to the return of the HPV cancer.
Deborah is a slight woman with pretty brown hair and a kind smile. It’s hard to believe her body has had to endured two surgeries (a hysterectomy to remove the cancer and a brutal surgery to remove intestine equaling a foot in length) as well as eight weeks of radiation; twenty biopsies; daily injections and now, since Deborah is missing a portion of her intestine, she has frequent, painful intestinal obstructions ending in six hospitalizations of a typical ten day duration.
Without a doubt, the Littles are whom California citizens had in mind when we passed the Compassionate Use Act back in 1996. They also should have landed squarely protected as medical cannabis patients in the “grow-your-own-style” of which San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis says she approves – since that is exactly what Dennis Little was doing in his small garden of twenty-seven plants.
Though the Littles are charged in state and not federal court it should also be noted that the toughest law in the land on medical cannabis, U.S Attorney Laura Duffy, says she only goes after: “Individuals who are engaging in ‘for profit’ retail sales of marijuana.”
Duffy also states, “None of us wanted to target and are targeting individual patients who, with a doctor’s recommendation are either growing or using marijuana for some debilitating illness.” But clearly she and Dumanis do target the debilitated. Even someone as sick as Deborah Little finds herself their target.
Dumanis’ and Duffy’s public statements on how to lawfully use cannabis when you are very ill did not protect the Littles from the SWAT style raid conducted on their home by Dumanis’ sheriffs who have been cross-sworn as Duffy’s DEA agents.
After a prior month’s helicopter surveillance, on October 17, 2012, a small army of cross-sworn agents, led by Deputy Sherriff Matt Stevens, stormed into the Little home and without even bothering to verify patient status, manhandled the fragile Littles, proceeded to interrogate them for hours, then ripped up the plants found on the property. If that weren’t enough to make the couple suffer, the District Attorney is now charging them with a felony for growing their own medicine, legally, to treat cancer and HIV/AIDS.
I spoke with Dennis and Deborah Little at their defense attorney, Lance Rogers’ office. They are law abiding people and will fight this injustice. I was deeply touched by their ordeal. If ever there were two patients who should be left alone to manage their suffering with their doctors’ approval, it would be Dennis and Deborah Little.
Cases like these put patients’ lives at risk. Because the Littles are too frightened of the DEA and Dumanis’ office neither of them currently are able to use the medical cannabis that eases their suffering and makes life bearable for them. The couple has asked for community support in their battle. If you are a patient or a patient advocate please consider coming to the Littles’ preliminary examination on March 21 at 8:45 AM beginning in Department 5 of Vista Court at 325 S. Melrose Dr., Vista, CA 92081. The case will be assigned a courtroom which you can learn by asking the Bailiff in Dept. 5.