By GORDON JACKSON
Published: Sunday, December 11, 2011 6:06 AM EST
Delbert Mullins doesn’t consider himself a criminal even though he faces multiple felony charges for possessing and growing marijuana.
Mullins, a totally disabled 62-year-old Vietnam-era veteran, was arrested Aug. 10 after law enforcement officials conducting a multi-agency aerial survey spotted marijuana growing at his Fort White home.
According to a Columbia County Sheriff’s Office arrest report, when investigators arrived at his home, Mullins voluntarily showed them the location of two marijuana plants growing in his back yard, three small plants in seeding trays on a table, the stalks from 15 marijuana plants and eight plastic gallon bags containing marijuana leaves.
Mullins was charged with two felonies, manufacturing a controlled substance and possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis, as well as a misdemeanor charge, possession of drug paraphernalia. He has a Dec. 19 status hearing in Columbia County Circuit Court.
Roberta Getzan, assistant state attorney, said a number of things typically happen during a status hearing. It’s possible a plea agreement could be reached or a trial date is set. Getzan, who is not the prosecutor in this case, said court officials cannot comment about specific cases until after they are resolved.
Mullins, a first-time drug offender, faces a maximum five years for each of the felony charges and one year for the misdemeanor.
“That is not an indicator on what he will receive,” Getzan said. “If he pleas, it’s up to the judge to consider the sentence.”
Mullins said he first began smoking marijuana earlier this year after his Part B Medicare declined coverage for the prescription drug Marinol after covering the cost for more than a decade.
The drug, is a synthetic form of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana. Marinol was one of the drugs prescribed to help Mullins deal with chronic pain and nausea from arthritis and severe neck and back injuries sustained in several car wrecks, including one where he was struck by a drunk driver traveling at 90 mph, he said.
After his Marinol prescription was denied, Mullins said his physician gave him another one that was also rejected. Mullins said he can’t afford the estimated $600 a month it would cost to pay for the drug without help from Medicare.
“They just refused to pay for it,” he said. “They didn’t give a reason, they just turned it down.”
Doctors have prescribed powerful narcotics, such as morphine and demerol, that would be covered by Medicare, but Mullins said he takes them sparingly because their effects make it difficult for him to function normally. Without Marinol or marijuana, he said it’s difficult to get out of bed because of nausea.
“Most days, I throw up,” he said. “Mornings are always rough on me.”
Mullins said he resorted to breaking the law by growing marijuana because it’s too expensive to buy on the street and smoking the drug was the only way he could get relief.
But the intoxicating effects from smoking marijuana are unpleasant, he said. He learned that harvesting leaves from the plants before they begin growing buds that contain high levels of THC provided relief for several hours without getting him high.
The prospect of possible jail time has Mullins worried about how he could cope with chronic pain behind bars.
“It would kill me,” he said. “I’d commit suicide because the pain is so severe.”
Mullins said he is seeing a Veteran’s Administration psychiatrist to help him deal with his physical and psychological ailments.
“I’m depressed all the time from being in pain all the time,” he said.
Michael Mirardi, Mullins’ lawyer, said the judge may consider his client for the drug court program, even though that may not be the best remedy because of the strict guidelines participants must follow.
“A lot of drug courts don’t allow people to take medications, even prescribed medications,” Mirardi said. “They have to endure the pain and suffering.”
Pastor John Hudson said he is sympathetic with Mullins’ current dilemma.
“He had the choice of growing pot or letting his power and utilities be turned off so he could buy Marinol,” Hudson said. “He grew it in plain sight. He said he had nothing to fear from the government he served.”
Now that Mullins faces serious criminal charges, Hudson hopes prosecutors are sympathetic toward his physical and legal problems.
“We’re hoping to we can get him off from medical necessity,” he said. “He shouldn’t have been arrested.”
Mirardi, of Stuart, said he hasn’t spoken with prosecutors and doesn’t know what to expect when during his client’s upcoming court appearance.
Mirardi said he has represented other clients arrested for using marijuana for medical reasons and the courts have shown leniency.
“I haven’t had a client in that position who was jailed,” he said. “The cases I have, the people have significant, absolute, real health issues. Most of these people have serious illnesses.”
In Mullins’ case, Mirardi said he didn’t know why his Medicare claim for Marinol was denied.
“He was forced to break the law because he was denied,” he said. “It’s necessary for his survival.”