When David Paul Patterson arrives in Hubbard County District Court in Park Rapids, Minnesota, he dresses up. Not in a suit and tie, but in baggy shorts falling below his knees and a forest-green shirt with a giant marijuana leaf splayed across the front. His "court uniform," Patterson calls it.
It's a bold strategy, especially for a man facing trial for drug sale and possession. But the way Patterson sees it, there's nothing to hide. He openly admits to having pounds of marijuana in his remote house in the woods of Walker, Minnesota. But he says he's using it to save people's lives. That goes beyond the law.
The facts of why Patterson ended up in court in the first place are pretty much undisputed. According to the criminal complaint, police showed up at Patterson's house in January with a search warrant, and inside they found seven pounds of marijuana, a scale, a pistol, four rifles, and more than a thousand dollars. Patterson openly admitted to owning, using, selling, and handing out the marijuana to those in need.
But Patterson says there's so much more. It's an operation that started in 2009, he says, after then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a medical marijuana bill for the state.
Patterson saw videos online showing how cannabis oils could help to heal cancers and other diseases (though there's yet to be any real scientific proof behind the claims). Patterson had friends who were sick, and from what he heard marijuana was making a big difference. So without the state on board, Patterson felt obligated to get involved himself.
So Patterson started, and he says he quickly saw results. A friend with terminal cancer was nearly cured, he claims. Another with diabetes saw her sores disappear. He knew the stuff was technically illegal, he says, but it was a natural herb, given to the world for good. To stop it would be a crime in itself.
"Somebody's gotta do it," Patterson says, even if that somebody ends up in jail.
The trouble is that medical cannabis doesn't officially become legal in Minnesota until mid-2015. And even when it does, it's under very particular circumstances, with only two licenses getting handed out for those who want to grow the stuff. So he's got a tough battle if he wants to win.
But there is one case that could help Patterson out: last year's ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals that a Rastafarian's religious beliefs gave him the right to possess a marijuana pipe. Patterson's argument is similar -- while he may not have a real, organized religion to fall back on, he believes in a higher power telling him to use marijuana as medicine.
"In short, [Patterson] challenges the ability of state government to unjustly take his U.S. Constitutional individual, inalienable rights to provide a natural medicine from the Creator, for which his personal spirituality calls for him to help suffering people heal and cope," reads a brief Patterson's lawyer submitted to court.
It's certainly a tough sell, but it's not unprecedented. We'll see if it works when Patterson stands trial in the next few months.