NC man with MS considered criminal for taking his 'medicine'

- A Monroe man with multiple sclerosis is sharing his story of being arrested for “medicine” – marijuana – with FOX 46 Charlotte.

“I use it every day and I will until I die,” Robert David Leonard told FOX 46 Charlotte. “It aggravates the f--- out of me that it’s illegal but it doesn’t scare me.”

Marijuana, legal for medical purposes in more than half the states across the country and for recreational in some -- is illegal for all purposes in North Carolina.

Leonard was arrested at his Monroe home on Sept. 12, 2015 for felony possession of marijuana.  “I actually had about two-and-a-half ounces,” Leonard said.

Leonard said he fell out of his wheelchair and called his wife on the phone for help. He said she called the Monroe Fire Department and several firefighters responded to the scene – but that’s when Leonard said it all went downhill.

Leonard said one of the firefighters who helped him back to his chair noticed his jar of marijuana resting on his dresser and then called the Monroe Police Department. 

A police report read, “Officer Wilds conducted a knock and talk…A warrant was issued for Robert Leonard [in] reference to felony possession of marijuana.”

“We completely understand the situation, but the law is the law,” Monroe Police Department spokesperson Pete Hovanec said. “Unless changes come from the federal government, the state government – we are duty-bound to uphold those laws.”

The City of Atlanta recently passed an ordinance that reclassifies its marijuana laws. The ordinance changes the penalty in the Atlanta Municipal code for possession of marijuana less than an ounce from the “general penalty” – which is a fine of up to $1000 and up to six months in jail – to a maximum fine of $75 and no jail time.

Leonard was in possession of more than this amount but FOX 46 Charlotte became curious and wondered if the City of Charlotte could pass a similar ordinance. 

“Atlanta has ‘Home Rule,’” North Carolina House of Representatives member John Autry said. “Charlotte does not have ‘Home Rule.’

“The cities and municipalities, all 520 of them across North Carolina, only have the authority that is granted to them by the general assembly. If a municipality, such as Charlotte was going to take steps to decriminalize marijuana, I feel that we would see a similar response from the legislature that we saw when the City of Charlotte expanded its protections in its non-discrimination ordinance – which resulted in [House Bill 2].”

House Bill 2 blocked Charlotte City Council from creating local ordinances after the it attempted to expand protections to the LGBT community, which included allowing transgender people the to choose the restroom they identify with.

There have been a number of bills introduced at the state level to legalize marijuana for medical use, but all have failed with little traction.

The City of Charlotte saw 2,532 marijuana arrests in 2016. Out of those arrests, 93 percent were misdemeanors.

“It’s a crime for it to be illegal,” Leonard said.

A 2014 WebMD study showed 69 percent of doctors said marijuana can help with certain treatments and conditions. “It just makes me want to say, ‘Me, too,’ as far as it works,” he said.

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