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

"I know it's good for that, but I just don't like how it makes me feel," Jessica says. (Despite her vociferous activism for marijuana rights, she claims to no longer smoke or eat it.)

"For whatever reason," Rob shrugs, "it doesn't give me the munchies." He turns to his daughter Cate and, in a playful Cookie Monster voice, says, "The munchies are gonna getcha! The munchies are gonna getcha!"

In the Corrys' world, children's delicate ears should be protected from topics like death and disease, but marijuana is nothing to be afraid of, and Rob frames recent governmental attempts to limit the spread of dispensaries as a classic Wild West showdown. "I'm confident we have the law and the facts on our side," he says. "They can't ban this. But any time you take on city hall, you take on The Man."

Rob's contempt for authority blossomed in middle America, amid the corn fields of Iowa. He smoked his first joint when he was 14, joined the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (known as NORML) because he thought it was cool, and in a mid-'80s government class at his Iowa City high school, he once shepherded a bill legalizing marijuana through a mock legislative session. Corry did his undergraduate work at CU-Boulder, his libertarianism emboldened by his famously liberal surroundings. As a member of student government in the late-'80s, he opposed a measure that would have paid for a group of students to attend a Martin Luther King Jr. conference in Atlanta because he couldn't understand why the money should come from the students' general fund. He lost and then was nominated to attend the conference, his first experience as a minority himself. Later, at Stanford Law School, Corry sued the university over a speech code that prohibited politically incorrect statements, and won. "As long as I've been able to think about politics, I've been pro-freedom, just leave me alone," he says. "It's a minority philosophy in places like that, but I feel like I got a superior education because I was more challenged by my professors and peers. My views were tested and were modified when I couldn't survive the test."

Corry graduated from Stanford and worked for the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento—the "libertarian ACLU"—for two and a half years, before moving to Washington, D.C., for a position with the House Judiciary Committee in 1997. It was a dream job for any ambitious conservative, with the prestige of serving for an esteemed organization whose mission was to scrutinize the Clinton administration's Department of Justice just as the president's Oval Office shenanigans were snowballing into an impeachment scandal.

The iconoclastic Corry was sticking it to The Man at the highest levels—until his own poor judgment torpedoed everything. One night in 1998, Corry was out drinking and returned home with three people he'd just met. He says they'd noticed that he kept his wallet in the breast pocket of his jacket, and soon after he hung it up, they snatched the jacket and took off. Corry followed them outside with a rifle. Although he never pulled the trigger, the next morning police came and found the rifle, two more guns, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and they arrested him for brandishing a weapon.

The Department of Justice also happens to be Washington's prosecuting arm, and so Corry found himself in a particularly difficult spot; the DOJ's officials were only too happy to go after the conservative hotshot who'd been an active opponent. Corry spent 40 days in jail, where he was housed alone in a cell for his own protection. The conviction cost him his job, but he rebounded to lobby for the Prison Fellowship ministries, one of the few places, Corry says, where having done time was an asset.

Corry returned to Colorado in 2001 to build a criminal defense practice and began dabbling in marijuana-related cases. He was working on a civil-rights bill when he met Jessica Peck, a CU-Boulder student who had arrived at the school with every intention of rebelling against her conservative upbringing. Instead, the experience cemented her libertarianism.

Jessica grew up in Arvada, the youngest of four, in a teetotaling, conservative, Christian family. As a child, Jessica played on boys' basketball teams, and her father had her attend part of a murder trial in Denver when she was 12 years old—on Father's Day—purely for the educational experience. She later nurtured her pugnacious tenacity in testosterone-laden environments: on the sideline at CU-Boulder football games, as a runner for ESPN, and as a newspaper reporter. "With Jessica there was never a fear that she'd follow the group off the edge of a cliff," says her sister Jennifer Radack, "because she was always the first one to jump." Jessica says her father steered her and her siblings this way so she'd never be someone who'd make excuses. "He gave me every opportunity a boy would have," she says, "so that when I became an adult I'd never be able to claim that I was a victim."