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‘Cruel and unusual’: Kansas resident faces decades in prison for medical marijuana use

January 22, 2020
medical marijuana patient story
Larry Burgess poses for a portrait in his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Burgess had his first seizure in 2009 and was later diagnosed with grand mal seizures. In April 2017, he was arrested in his hometown Fredonia, Kansas and charged with three felonies: growing marijuana, manufacturing a controlled substance, and using a cellular or computer device to facilitate the commission of a felony. He has lived in Colorado for three years but frequently travels back to Kansas for court hearings. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

Kansas native Larry Burgess has spent nearly three years living in Colorado. He doesn’t know where he’ll be spending the next three years—whether in his newly-adopted home state or on probation or in prison in Kansas.

medical marijuana patient story

Larry Burgess feeds neighborhood squirrels in his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

Due to grand mal seizures, which cause him to black out and have violent muscular contractions, Burgess can’t drive and hasn’t been able to hold down a full-time job for over a decade. He currently spends part of each day feeding the squirrels that gather for handouts in the backyard of his small but tidy Colorado Springs townhouse, while his wife works as a dental technician.

Burgess takes a moment to comment about a jet-black squirrel that jumps down from a tree to his back steps to pick up a peanut. “She’s a female,” he comments. “She doesn’t come around as much as the others, because the others bully her.”

Kansas vs. Burgess

In April of 2017 Burgess was arrested in his hometown of Fredonia, Kansas. After intensive questioning he was charged with three felonies: growing marijuana, manufacturing a controlled substance, and using a cellular or computer device to facilitate the commission of a felony. That last charge was due to Burgess having posted pictures of his cannabis on Instagram, to inform others on how he was using marijuana to treat his seizures.

A bond modification, agreed to by the judge in Kansas, allowed Burgess to move to Colorado while his case is pending “so that I can medicate legally,” he told Leafly. But he is scheduled to go back to Kansas in mid-February, where he can either agree to a plea deal or a jury trial. If convicted on all three felonies, he could face close to 25 years in prison.

Related

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What’s the matter with Kansas?

medical marijuana patient story

(Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

The state of Kansas has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the country, and a reputation for vigorously prosecuting residents who use cannabis for medical purposes.

'Stories like that of Larry Burgess are the rule and not the exception in Kansas.'
Lisa Ash Sublett, Bleeding Kansas President and Founder

In 2015 state authorities arrested Garden City resident Shona Banda, who was using cannabis to treat her Crohn’s disease. As a result of her arrest, Shona lost custody of her young son and was facing up to 30 years in prison. The case drew national headlines. Several years later Banda, who had no criminal record, was given a plea deal of probation. She also ended up leaving Kansas.

“Stories like that of Larry Burgess are the rule and not the exception in Kansas,” Lisa Ash Sublett, president and founder of Bleeding Kansas, a non-profit and all-volunteer cannabis patient advocacy group, said in a statement to Leafly. “As long as Kansas continues to criminalize patients and deny them the rights guaranteed to them by our state constitution, more families will be forced to flee our state and become refugees in legal states.”

“But as Larry’s case clearly exemplifies,” the statement continued, “Kansas patients are not fully safe in legal states. Sending Larry, and others like him, back to prohibition states to face decades in prison, and more than likely their death, is absolutely cruel.”

Living with seizures

medical marijuana patient story

Larry Burgess adds Granddaddy Purps distillate to make gummies in his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He recently started a blog called ‘Getting Lit with Larry’ to share his story and process. He is on a disability budget and his goal is to grow his own flower and become a caregiver. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

Burgess just turned 43. The born and raised Kansan grew up in a rural small town of fewer than two thousand people, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone.

Up until his early 30s Burgess led a relatively normal existence. He was married to a girl he met in college. They had three kids, now all in their 20s. Burgess worked in retail and, for a while, owned a small store of his own. Then in 2009 he had his first seizure.

“I’d had several concussions as a child and then a couple in high school and one from a car crash incident,” he said. “They never actually pinpointed what caused my seizures to start, but it was probably one of those.”

'Cannabis ... is tremendous for me, allowing me to have a quicker recovery time.'
Larry Burgess, medical cannabis patient

Burgess cannot recall what happens when he seizes. But he does know the seizures last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes and leave him with painful spasms and severe muscle contractions.

“They’re very draining,” he explained. “Afterwards I’m pretty tired, a little lethargic. It takes a little while to get full cognitive ability back. But cannabis, for one, is tremendous for me, allowing me to have a quicker recovery time, allowing me to do stuff throughout the day where I’d normally be in bed or resting because of the multiple seizures.”

In the beginning, in 2009, Burgess estimates he suffered three or four seizures a week. His doctors prescribed a variety of epilepsy medications, but he didn’t like them because they dulled his mind. The medications also caused blood toxicity and came close to killing him while his seizures became worse: longer in duration, more frequent and more powerful.

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‘Doctors don’t know everything’

Larry Burgess removes homemade gummies from a mold using corn starch in his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

Burgess’ general physician in Fredonia was frustrated by his condition and sent him to a hospital in Wichita for more intensive testing including cat scans, spinal taps, and psych evaluations that contained hundreds of questions.

Then doctors in Wichita told Burgess he had conversion disorder. “That means that it’s in my head, that I was causing them to happen,” he said. “I was upset about that.”

Burgess was also the victim of sexual abuse when he was a toddler, and although he said he had come to terms with that trauma the doctors considered the abuse as an underlying cause of his seizures.

“It wasn’t until I had my own kids that I thought about (the abuse),” he said. “I probably should have seen a psychiatrist, but I dealt with it. I had a good job, wasn’t under any more stress than usual, I was in good health.”

In the middle of all this suspicion and self-doubt, Burgess said, a male nurse at the Wichita hospital showed some compassion and gave him some hope.

“He came in and he grabbed my hand that day and told me that doctors don’t know everything and don’t listen to them, because he’s been in this game a long time and he’s heard many doctors say things that were completely off the rails,” Burgess remembered. But when he returned home to Fredonia, Burgess’ GP also wouldn’t believe him, so he changed physicians.

Getting a proper diagnosis

For the next several years, Burgess was on a “litany of medications,” taking up to 23 pills a day: valium for the seizures, anti-psychotics, morphine, muscle relaxants, and anti-depressants followed by additional prescriptions “in case the medicine I was on made me feel too weird.” “I was so out of it, there’s like two years of my life that I feel I was not part of,” he recalled.

In 2013 Burgess and his wife took out a loan and headed to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. After his examination, the clinic’s head of neurology presented the diagnosis of non-epileptic grand mal seizures.

“When he was going through my records and talking about the (earlier conversion disorder diagnosis) he was very upset about that. And that made me feel good, actually,” Burgess continued. “So that’s why he put the actual diagnosis, that it is non-epileptic grand mal seizures, he’s 100% confident… giving me that diagnosis. And he wished that he could get rid of the first one.”

Going to Denver

medical marijuana patient story

Larry Burgess grinds Sour Glue flower before packing a cone in his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

In 2014, when adult use cannabis was legalized in Colorado, Burgess began his online research into medical marijuana.

“I found on a neurological website that there was a specific strain, called The Industrial Plant, that people with seizures were having…a good response,” he said. And that strain was being sold at dispensaries in Denver.

'From that moment on I was an advocate. Trying that was a life-changer.'
Larry Burgess, medical cannabis patient

 

It took Burgess six months to convince his family that he should try medical marijuana. When they finally agreed, his wife couldn’t get off work so his mother and his two aunts drove him the nine hours to Denver.  They purchased an eighth of an ounce each, the maximum purchase allowed at the time for out-of-state customers.

After smoking two joints his first night in Denver, Burgess went to sleep and, for the first time in ages, slept through the night without a seizure. “I was overcome with emotion,” he recalled. “I called my wife; she was sobbing, I was sobbing. And from that moment on I was an advocate. Trying that was a life-changer.”

While cannabis helped with the seizures Burgess would go through his supplies from Denver within two weeks. In between trips to Colorado he relied on the poor quality, illegal cannabis he could find in Kansas. He also learned to make his own FECO (full extract cannabis oil). Burgess noted it would take an ounce of cannabis bud for him to make three to five grams of oil, which he would micro dose several times per day. And as the legal cannabis market in Colorado evolved, he started purchasing edibles, vape pens, tinctures, and salves.

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Turning his life around

medical marijuana patient story

Larry Burgess in the process of making gummies in his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

The difference cannabis made in his life, Burgess said, was remarkable. People in his small Kansas town knew he was in bad shape because he rarely left home. But once he had a steady supply of cannabis to help control his seizures, Burgess was able to resume the basic activities most people take for granted like attending his kids’ events and even mowing his lawn.

Burgess said he didn’t hide the fact that he was using cannabis.

“People knew; people wanted to know,” he recalled. “I didn’t flaunt it, but if they asked I would say that I’m using cannabis for my seizures. Most of the time they would say that was fine, they we’re glad you’re better. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there was some major difference in my life.”

Burgess began growing his own cannabis and rebuilding his life. He began a home catering company that had some success.

A bleak future

medical marijuana patient story

Larry Burgess smokes in his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

But someone tipped off the authorities and in April of 2017 came the police raid and accompanying charges.

When asked if he could just stay in Colorado and defy the Kansas authorities, Burgess smiled.

“I can’t,” he said. “What will happen (in that case) is the county attorney (in Kansas) will send a warrant to the governor’s office, which will send that directly to (Colorado) Governor Polis’ office. He will then issue the state highway patrol to come pick me up. And then they would take me, whenever they decided, to the Kansas line. There, it would be the Wilson County Sheriff’s department that would be picking me up… and then I would go there and sit in their jail until they decided to get this done and over with.”

“I don’t even think I should accept a felony,” Burgess continued. “I told the Fredonia authorities from the get-go that I would plea to multiple misdemeanors. But I don’t feel that I should have that on my record, multiple felonies for a medical necessity and a first offense.”

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Bruce Kennedy

Bruce Kennedy is an award-winning reporter, editor, and producer based in Colorado. He has covered the legal cannabis industry since 2010.

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  • Greg Maxim

    Kansas needs to wake the fuck up and stop living in the fuckin past. This ain’t 1955 fuckers.

    • Trog Lodyte

      Or as my great grandpappy used to say…”fuck the fuckin’ fucks!”

  • usmaels

    This is a sad story. There no doubt about that. But come on…any of us could do the same thing and disregard ALL laws concerning this topic. He knew the risks he was taking, just the same as anyone, most people choose to not skirt the laws to the extent he did. What he did goes far beyond someone using thc even if they do have to obtain it illegally. We have laws. We all break laws to some extent…and that means everyone. But there are some laws we decide to break that have greater risk. He should be very thankful he didn’t get caught doing this back in the 1960’s and 70’s. I’ve done worse than him. Lots worse. But after 50 years of getting stoned, I was lucky I didn’t get busted. I’m thankful for that…but I always knew the risks and knew the consequences. He did too, but did them anyway. If he was doing all this article claimed, then he was certainly knowingly taking the risks. It’s not fun seeing a guy like him have to pay such a high price…but it does bug me he thinks he should get away with it. He really pushed the limits of what most people would do. I might go out and buy on the black market…but hey…to get into growing, and everything else he was doing…well…he messed up taking all those risks. Duh. Myself and many others I know also have great need for thc for various reasons. Including people I know who also have seizures. But this is not the way. People need to be patient and support and join the cause for legalization. My guess is he actually thinks he’s slick. He was…but now he got busted. He should have been more careful. But I get it how and why he took the risks. My disabilities give me death wishes too.Things suck. But dang it dude…you got busted. That’s why myself and others I know with tough disabilities haven’t done what he did. I love driving 100mph too, but I don’t. Well, not often..but I darn sure know how bad I will get burned if I get caught. He may help the cause for the rest of us, but geesh…it’s never good to see people go down like he’s going to. He didn’t need to do this for us all…that’s be. I don’t like the see people become like a martyr or claim to be for a cause I share…when the truth may be he simply knew the risks. I don’t blame him for trying to get off these charges. Good luck to him on that. My perspective on this is a bit different from most on this particular article because I’m not only old, but am from and lived in Kansas most of my life. I’m now retired in Florida and our pot laws are coming along faster than Kansas…but we are way behind Colorado….another state I know very well. I hope is is given as much mercy as possible. He’s going to need it because these are not minor laws he risked challenging.

    • DARREN

      The fact of the matter is drug laws are unconstitutional, but we the citizens are too stupid, busy or apathetic, to take them on.

    • Phishn

      Do you often jump to such conclusions? Where in the article does it say that Larry “thinks he should get away with it” as you say? The only thing he said that is even close was “I don’t even think I should accept a felony”. All he is saying is that his crimes were misdemeanors, not felonies. Growing even one plant in the state of Kansas is a felony. That’s fucking ridiculous and the people who prosecute human beings like Larry should be ashamed of themselves. This is no different than Bernard Noble serving 7 years in prison for getting arrested with two joints in his possession, in New Orleans. Fucking. Ridiculous.

    • Melody Richardson

      Just because something is illegal doesn’t make it wrong, and vice versa. Laws are not the be-all end-all.

    • 360dunk

      Why are you comparing this poor guy’s risks to someone driving 100 mph? What an ignorant example. He’s trying to save and IMPROVE his life, not destroy it. If cannabis works for his ailment, only a half-wit would criticize that.

    • Bad Tom

      Driving 100 mph is a choice. Having intractable seizures isn’t. Neither is having cancer. Unjust laws need to be repealed. Prosecutors have discretion. Going after seriously ill medical patients is an abuse of that discretion, and an abuse of justice.

      Full. Stop.

    • WolfsRealm

      Driving 100mph won’t help your medical condition. He was providing himself with potentially lifesaving medicine in a state where his only source was the black market. There’s no way to know the original source, if anything had been added to it or the strength. Growing it himself was a logical means of being sure that he was getting a safe and inexpensive product. the article does not say that he was selling it, it simply states that he was sharing information about how to make a safe medication for himself. I don’t see how you can possibly compare breaking the law by driving 100mph for a thrill with breaking the law to create a safe source of medicine for himself. Yes, he knew the risks but the penalty is so ridiculously out of proportion to the “crime” that it seems Kansas is simply looking for a means of forcing their residents who have serious illness’s to leave the state. Perhaps your condition is one that allows you to have a somewhat decent life despite the limitations it causes. I know someone who has the type of grand mal seizures he is suffering from. Every single seizure can possibly cause death. I’m concerned about the lack of compassion this country has for many issues but most especially for this particular issue. I also have a serious condition which is vastly improved by the use of THC. My condition is not life threatening but my quality of life is terrible. You and I may have the option of waiting but he didn’t.

  • Mcozy333

    the Government has known that the cannabis plant stops seizure and kills cancers at least since the early 1920’s… their are patented medical cannabinoid drugs now that are made to REDUCE or STOP seizures!!!! a cannabinoid BTW is a cannabis plant metabolite… the illegal one, YEP that ONE

  • pauleywallnutz

    Yeah!!! this poor guy suffers, finds divinity in god’s plant and the Romans crucify him all the while Pontius Pilate, Judas and the police in Kansas’s DOJ and LE are snorting blow, popping opioids like skittles, toking up and downing 5ths of their fave poison on the taxpayers dime!
    Kansas is a medieval dust bowl vestige of the dark ages! Even Toto left!

  • massvocals

    The devil may play his hand but the perfect mind will win by truth

  • massvocals

    massvocals • a few seconds ago Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by Leafly.

    OH
    NO WE NEED TO WAKE UP KANSAS , someone has to file a go fund me on
    this poor soul , PLEASE >>> he need to hire one of our
    cannabis lawyers form NORML Please Massvocals wants someone to step
    up and help this person NOW his medical issue is one of the worst and
    cannabis stop it dead , sending him to jail is death sentence we
    all need to throw this man few dollars I have work in Massachusetts
    to legal cannabis since 1990,however I dont have big head about it .
    IN the past i was one of the first protest in 1969 in Boston common
    when WBCN called for legalization protest and YES many many show up
    and we cause civil disobedience and not one person care not even the
    police , there was around 40 ish people of all ages in great big
    circle

    ,This is real problem, to read We are having
    zealots prohibitionist fools keeping states illegal not allowing
    states to allow medical cannabis ( medical is right ) to try , , I
    myself now 3 years ongoing lost my colon , but it was cannabis which
    save it form cancer IT was cannabis that allow me to holding on to
    it for over 25 years ,when i may had lost it in 10 and GOD i know , I
    risk law enforcement and arrest everyday I was never arrested because
    i good talker not writer I never was arrested for any drugs for that
    matter , but I did leave my mark protested everywhere on east coast
    since 1990 , i collected signature for petitions protested police
    station lost union jobs protested them wrote and wrote thousands of
    letters i did what ever it took , then WA and CO happen and then we
    got up next due to funding form MPP who deserved all the credit
    they came in with crash the vote and even despite the king James
    lying church who gave 100,000 to stiop us we won by over 1 million
    votes THank the real god not the lying church assholes , THis man
    needs to be free , lets help him massvocals@comcast.net

  • brianwesley28

    Jury nullification. If I were the head juror, I’d probably attempt to compel the other jurors to agree that we should proceed with jury nullification. That’s based upon this article. I don’t know more about the situation beyond what is reported in support of him by a special interest publication. The prosecution would present their case, as would the defense, and we would have to decide upon that. Based upon this, though, I’d push for jury nullification if I were the head juror, or simply even a juror.

    https://www.marijuanamoment.net/jury-acquits-marijuana-patient-who-admitted-to-breaking-georgia-law/

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jury%20nullification

  • 360dunk

    Sure, Kansas is a neanderthal state with moronic laws. But the blame falls squarely on the U.S. government (and I love my country, btw). In the year 2020, how is our federal government stupid enough to STILL classify cannabis as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value? Really? It’s the same classification as HEROIN??? This is absolutely idiotic.

    • Sir Baby de Porky

      Cannabis is ” dangerous ” , because for the last 20 000 years , nobody died from it …

      That’s how come !!!

  • kevin_hunt

    KS cops are unbelievably cruel.

    Two former CIA employees sued Kansas police, claiming a raid on their home was unfounded. They say a SWAT team descended on their home in April 2012 without a warrant in search of contraband, only to find vegetables growing in their basement.

 Adlynn and Robert Harte claimed that even after repeated attempts for clarification, police have refused to divulge any reasoning for the raid, the AP reports. They believe the decision came from government officials who knew the Hartes had purchased equipment from a store selling hydroponics – which can be used to grow marijuana, among other plants.

“With little or no other evidence of illegal activity, law enforcement officers make the assumption that shoppers at the store are potential marijuana growers, even though the stores are most commonly frequented by backyard gardeners who grow organically or start seedlings indoors,” reads the couple’s lawsuit.

Robert and Adlyn said their two children, aged 7 and 13, were “shocked and frightened” when a SWAT team wielding assault weapons pounded on their door just after 7:00 in the morning.

Robert Harte said that the family had three tomato plants, one melon and two butternut squash growing in the basement after using high powered lights to build the hydroponic garden years ago.

  • Penny Stone Hoar

    Such a shame……the laws in the USA overall need to change. If the government took the stand that cannabis was legal, think of all the time and money that would be saved fighting it. The drug cartels would not longer be in business like they are now. The government could tax it like tobacco. Then the officers could fight the bad drugs and leave the cannabis alone. I hope someday this happens. I also know how much medical cannabis use is helpful. I live in Virginia and have all my papers for medical use. Just waiting for the stores to open so I can buy it legal. Until then I live in debilitating pain. Maybe this year I will finally have a better life again.

  • Michael Schulz

    I developed migraines Dec. 28, 1984. My migraines came frequently, almost daily. Originally, I was treated with injections, either morphine or demerol, lasting nearly two years. I tapered off through taking oxycontin, methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone. My current diagnosis is Chronic Daily Headaches presenting as Cluster Headaches. I consulted 17 different professionals over the years. I would have liked to have legal access to marijuana, but that was illegal in the state of Missouri until this year. What I would like to stress is that I followed the law, and my life was ruined. I commend Mr. Burgess, even though he faces legal jeopardy. I pray that he is entirely exonerated. Everyone gets only one life. At least Mr. Burgess is fighting…and that is important.

    • Sir Baby de Porky

      Actually , you never die …

      That’s one good reason to watch your karmic status !!!