Reefer Madness

As the push for legally available medical marijuana has become the headline-grabbing, hot-button debate of the day, conservative attorneys Rob and Jessica Corry—no strangers to controversy themselves—have become the issue's biggest boosters. But are they the right people for the job?

March 2010

It's a mid-December evening and, high above downtown Denver, Rob Corry looks out the window of his corner office, watching the city lights twinkle toward the purple mountain backdrop.

The crisp white shirt and navy power tie,

the modern wooden desk, and the chair with the Stanford University nameplate all nod to conservative, corporate America. But Corry's hipster eyeglasses and straw-colored hair, flipped smoothly over his forehead, give him the look of a preppie surfer, and his dimpled chin and boyish smirk make it seem like mischief is just a moment away.

The memorabilia that papers his office walls tips off Corry's latest middle-finger crusade: There are clips from notable medical marijuana cases he's won, awards and pictures of him with clients, and a brightly colored poster with the familiar snapshot of a youthful, fedora-wearing Barack Obama smoking something that might be a joint, surrounded by a colorfully psychedelic spin on the president's campaign slogan: Yes We Cannabis.

I'm here in Corry's 28th-floor office to discuss, among other things, his current case, in which his clients are suing the city of Centennial for shutting down a medical marijuana dispensary on the grounds that it violates federal law. Corry confesses that, even though he believes the facts are on his clients' side, their chances of winning aren't promising. Even so, win or lose, Corry will continue to get paid, because the verdict will likely trigger similar cases.

Corry's going over the next day's agenda when his wife enters. Jessica Peck Corry is a newly minted attorney whose office with the firm Hoban & Feola is a few floors down. Because the Centennial case may turn on questions of land use, a specialty of her colleague, Bob Hoban, Rob and Jessica will be cocounsel in her first hearing since passing the bar.

The Corrys seem to love nothing more than politics and policy, and, over the course of our time together, they readily riff on the medical marijuana talking points: how it's markedly less harmful than alcohol or pharmaceuticals, why it may be the key to reviving our moribund economy, and how media reports of the movement's security issues and supposed threat to children are canards that obscure municipal restrictions that may well be unconstitutional.

They also seem to love nothing more than spirited conversation. Because my interview with Rob has run long this evening, he's late to meet Jessica. "We could have gone and gotten a drink at the Brown Palace," she says, intimating that we could finish our conversation at the bar.

"Next time," I say, although both Rob and Jessica know I haven't had a drink in more than 13 years.

"Next time," she repeats back to me.

"You'd be getting drunk alone," Rob, who claims he's quit drinking, says to Jessica.

"I know," Jessica says playfully. "That's a problem."

"We're sober teetotalers here," I say. "Although we could figure out a way to get some kind of a buzz."

Rob knows I'm a registered medical marijuana patient, but he's never admitted to me that he's a marijuana smoker. Perhaps it's because he's cautious around reporters; perhaps it's because of his background, which includes two short stays in jail. It's about the only thing that he's circumspect about. But, then, Corry surprises me.

"I do get samples from time to time," he says.

I'm not sure how to react, so I ask Jessica about her upcoming birthday, which happens to be the day before mine.

As we're chatting, Rob reaches under his desk, grabs a small, plastic bottle that reads "ibuprofen" on the label, and slides it across the desk.

"What's this?" I ask.

"That's for you."

After we wrap up the interview, I leave Corry's office and head out into the cold night. Walking along Welton Street, I open up the ibuprofen bottle and find two leafy green buds of marijuana tucked inside.

To the delight of some and the alarm of others, obtaining marijuana in Colorado—not very difficult to begin with—has never been easier, and the Corrys have spent years arguing, advocating, and often litigating for why it still isn't easy enough. Even though qualified Coloradans have enjoyed the right to use the controversial alternative medicine since voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000 (codified as Article XVIII, Section 14, in the Colorado Constitution), several factors have caused the issue to bloom into the frenetic circus that now commands daily headlines. The amendment is open to interpretation—particularly the part that qualifies "severe pain" as grounds for medical marijuana use, as well as its lack of clear legal guidelines for dispensaries or caregivers—but its passage had little impact initially. Marijuana possession and use was (and remains) against federal law, and for years the number of legalized patients hovered in the low four figures, most of them supplied by a small handful of dispensaries.