|Photo: Denver D.A.’s Office
|Joseph Lightfoot is a legally licensed caregiver with all his paperwork in order. But he’s been charged with felony child abuse for growing medical marijuana.
In what may be a harbinger of a disturbing new tactic on the part of police in targeting legal cultivators of medical marijuana, a Denver couple has been charged with felony child abuse for operating a licensed cannabis grow operation in their home.
Joseph Daniel Lightfoot and Amber Brooke Wildenstein, both 29, were arrested after police noticed the grow operation when they were called to the home on a domestic-violence report from a neighbor earlier this month.
A police investigation found that “it had only been a verbal argument, so no domestic-violence crime had been committed,” said Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, reports Michael Roberts at Denver Westword
Three children, ages 7, 9, and 11, live in the home with the couple.
Because of the presence of the children, Lightfoot and Wildenstein are each facing one count of felony child abuse, according to the district attorney’s office. They were released on $50,000 bond each.
Colorado law allows marijuana to be grown and used for medical purposes, and has since 2000. Authorities admit that the marijuana growing operation in the couple’s home was licensed and had all the proper paperwork.
But the couple was charged under a state law which says knowingly manufacturing a “controlled substance” in the presence of a child, or where a child is found or lives, equals child abuse.
Remember, medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, and that the marijuana grow operation was licensed and above-board — so the argument that the couple was “manufacturing illegal drugs” is patently absurd.
“It’s state law, and we don’t pick and choose the laws we enforce and prosecute,” said Kimbrough
, obviously unaware of the irony of her words. “We have an obligation to go forward with what’s on the books, and marijuana is a controlled substance.”
“What’s the actual danger here?” asked attorney Brian Vicente of patient advocacy group Sensible Colorado. “You’ve got people who are ostensibly following state law. They have the proper paperwork to lawfully engage in this action. So for the DA’s office to be wantonly prosecuting them for doing this in their home, it’s concerning.”
Kimbrough said she hopes the medical marijuana community will “familiarize themselves” with the child abuse statute being used against Lightfoot and Wildenstein.
“Maybe there is some public awareness that needs to take place,” Kimbrough said, in what could be taken as an implied threat.
“People in all walks of life get sick — anyone from parents to grandparents,” Vicente said. “And I think we need to encourage the DA’s office to use discretion, and not penalize people for being ill.”