In October 2014, Brooke Colquhoun, age 41, was driving his father home from bladder cancer surgery to have cancerous polyps removed. A year earlier his father had been diagnosed with bladder cancer, but doctors thought it had gone into remission. Now it was back.
The treatment for his cancer was terrible for him. He used a urinary catheter and endured flu-like symptoms, with fever, chills, fatigue, due to infection. As you can imagine, the process was degrading and made his father feel hopeless and distressed mentally, emotionally, and physically.
“I was dreading [that] he’d have to go through all that again,” admitted Brooke.
He and his father operated and sustained a small business together for 12 years. ”My father has always been strong and this process took the life out of him,” said Brooke. “When I picked him up from surgery, I thought I had never seen him so weak. It scared me. He’s my best friend, the most generous man I know, and a wonderful father”
On the drive home, Brooke told him he would find some way to get him some cannabis to cure his cancer. Brooke had done an internet search for, “bladder cancer cure” and an article came up about a father who cured his bladder cancer in 10 weeks using a high-THC cannabis oil.
“The night after picking him up from surgery, I called a buddy and asked how I could get a half ounce. I didn’t know how much to get, but I knew that since cannabis oil was a concentrate, I would probably need a lot,” he explained. “My plan was to make the oil because we needed to nip the cancer in the bud before it spread to the rest of the body.”
On the way home from making the purchase, Brooke was lost in thought at a red light. The sign said, “no turn on red.” But when a car pulled up behind him he mistakenly thought, ‘oh, they’re waiting for me to turn,’ so he made the turn.
He was pulled over and when he opened the glove compartment for the car registration, the cannabis he bought for his father’s cancer fell on the floor.
“Not long after, I was sitting on the side of the road in handcuffs, my father’s medicine was on the hood of the patrol car, and the officer was digging through all of my things trying to find anything else incriminating. He didn’t find anything, and he knew I wasn’t impaired because he let me drive home that night,” he described. Before the incident, Brooke had a clean criminal record.
“I started suffering from anxiety and as the trial approached I was having trouble sleeping. The anxiety about what was going to happen to me was eating me alive,” Brooke shared. The trial was scheduled for three months later. Then the trial was rescheduled for February 2015 because the officer who pulled Brooke over was home with the flu.
Brooke’s anxiety level went up. His lawyer told him if he gets convicted, then his only option was for “First Time Offenders” program to avoid a misdemeanor. Instead, he would have to pay fines and court costs; complete mandatory community service; attend a drug abuse program, and suspend his driver’s license for six months, which meant he was only permitted to drive back and forth to work and to community service. He could no longer do any of his work duties that involved driving like running errands, getting his father lunch, delivering equipment, etc. This was at a time when his father needed his help most.
Though upon completion of the six-month Virginia program, the record of his misdemeanor was deferred and the DMV suspension was not removed from his driving record.
“I was scared to apply for government jobs in Virginia because I was told they had more thorough background checks and that they could see through my deferment. [Virginia does not expunge the records as other states do.] I knew I would not pass any kind of security clearance as a result of the charge brought against me.”
“Neither the judge nor my own lawyer cared to hear about cannabis as medicine or my father’s bladder cancer…,” Brooke remembered. They made Brooke sit in a cell below the courtrooms in handcuffs with violent criminals all for carrying a plant in hopes to help his father.
In 2016, Brooke moved to Massachusetts. He and his wife married in April 2018. He had to pay higher insurance rates as a result of the VA record. His wife’s insurance company would not accept him on the policy until five years had passed since the incident.
Brooke and his dad no longer have the small business. His father still lives in Virginia and his bladder cancer has returned at least twice. He continues receiving chemotherapy treatments, but Brooke wishes his father had access to safe and legal cannabis. “I feel like if Virginia had adequate cannabis treatments in place, my father’s bladder cancer wouldn’t return,” he said.
In Massachusetts, cannabis is treated as a medicine and recently passed legislation for legal responsible adult use. Brooke receives legal medical cannabis for his anxiety in MA. He says it’s ironic to see so many older people in the dispensary when he visits. “They’re getting the medicine they need. It’s ridiculous to keep it illegal. Virginia is just fighting the future,” said Brooke.
If Brooke’s father was a resident of MA, he could get legal access to safe cannabis to treat his bladder cancer. However, the most dangerous thing about cannabis in Virginia is bringing it into the state, so Brooke can’t risk bringing medicine to his father again. It is unconscionable that any cancer patient is refused access to legal safe, effective medicine of needed therapeutic strength and that the pursuit of this safe, effective medicine is criminalized simply by residing in Virginia.
Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law is a portrait exhibit designed to educate communities and erode the stigma of cannabis criminalization. Portrait stories are available to community, advocacy, and industry events to promote awareness and provoke dialogue that encourages viewers to question assumptions and actively engage in undoing the damages of cannabis prohibition. Find them at cruelconsequences.org and on social media at @cruleconsequences.