A man who was charged in January with possession of marijuana, though he had a note from in his doctor saying he smoked it to help deal with cancer, won a reprieve in court Thursday.
Rather than asking Jerry Peterson, 45, of St. Charles, to plead guilty to the drug charge and go through the motions of having the court waive the fines and costs — as it did in a prior case of his — Kane County prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor charge on Thursday.
“It has all worked out pretty good, It’s been a pain, really,” a smiling Peterson said as he left court with his Jerry Peterson younger brother, Steve.
Prosecutors agreed to drop the case after Peterson’s situation was explained to them by his defense attorney, Kathleen Colton, who represented Peterson free of charge after reading about his story in the Daily Herald Sunday.
“Based on the fact that the man is dying of cancer and he has a note from his doctor, we decided to drop the case,” Assistant Kane County State’s Attorney Christine Taylor said.
Besides, she added, given Peterson’s condition “I was thinking: What benefit is a conviction going to be for the state’s attorney’s office and for the defendant?”
Dropping the case “was a extremely appropriate resolution,” Colton said. “I think (prosecutors) have shown some compassion here. Not every case has to be handled the same way.”
Peterson, whose body is being overtaken by melanoma, is not expected to live very long. Over the last month, he said, doctors have told him the cancer may be moving into his bones because they have become more brittle. He has broken ribs simply from coughing.
Peterson said he began smoking marijuana regularly over the last two years after he was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer. He had thought he had beaten the disease 12 years earlier, but it returned and was determined to be terminal.
He said marijuana helped him keep his appetite, which was curbed by pain and the nausea associated with his medications.
Though studies are divided on the usefulness of marijuana, in nine states around the country marijuana can be used for medical purposes. Illinois is not one of those states.
Several local physicians and oncologists said they would support a patient’s use of the drug if the patient said it was helping.
Peterson’s smoking wasn’t a problem until he was arrested last May in Batavia after police stopped a car in which he was a passenger. After the officer who stopped the car asked if anyone had any drugs, Peterson volunteered that he had marijuana and he was arrested and charged with possession.
Peterson pleaded guilty to the charge in that case, and after he gave a judge a note from his doctor explaining his marijuana use, the judge waived the fines and court costs in the case on Jan. 17.
His doctor, a St. Charles physician who refuses to discuss Peterson’s case, also gave Peterson a handwritten note to carry around with him if he was ever caught in the same situation.
Just six days after the Batavia case was resolved, Peterson’s bad luck struck again when he was again a passenger in a car stopped in St. Charles for another traffic violation — this time because the. car had a cracked windshield.
Peterson said he smokes the marijuana only when he’s home, but in both the Batavia and St. Charles cases he said he was being driven home after going out to buy more.
Though he was a passenger in the car, Peterson was asked if he had any drugs because the St. Charles officer said he smelled marijuana.
Colton, a prominent Kane County defense attorney, said that had the case continued, she would, have made the search request an issue.
DRUGS: Case was a personal one for man’s defense lawyer
“It was a bad search,” she said Thursday. “There’s a difference between smelling marijuana on a person and smelling burning marijuana m a car.”
Though Illinois does not allow medical use of marijuana, the harmless resolution of Peterson’s two cases is typical of the way courts have handled similar cases all across the country.
While Colton doesn’t consider herself an advocate, she said she personally believes marijuana should be available for medical use.
She said she took Peterson’s case because when she decided to practice law years ago, “I said I would help people if I could.”
More personally, Colton said she was moved to read of Peterson’s case because her mother died in 1982 after being stricken with cancer.
Her mother, like Peterson, had trouble with her appetite because of the pain and drugs she was taking, and the disease quickly ravaged her body.
“1 tried to get her to smoke marijuana to build up her appetite,” Colton said, “but she was from a different generation. If it was illegal, she wouldn’t do it.”
Peterson said if there is anything good to come of his plight it is that, hopefully, the publicity has caused some people to wonder about the situation others like him, and Colton’s mother, are faced with as they battle their disease.
“I’m still getting a lot of calls about it,” he said. “It has been good to hear the support.”
(Note: Jerry Peterson passed away within two months of this printing)