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

Last December I met Jessica Corry in the Ship Tavern in the Brown Palace Hotel. It was late afternoon, and the place was mostly empty except for a family of five: two grandparents, two parents, and a young boy. Coincidentally, the grandfather was former state Senate president and staunch conservative John Andrews, whom Jessica once worked for—and whom she considers a second father. They greeted each other warmly, but when she told him she was there to speak with me about the "MMJ issue"—abbreviating medical marijuana in front of the senator's grandson—Andrews said nothing and looked down at the floor, visibly uncomfortable. If Jessica noticed any tension, she didn't let on.

The Corrys' unapologetic advocacy for marijuana rights makes such awkward encounters with fellow conservatives fairly common, yet they blithely ignore any rigidity that might greet them if it doesn't mesh with their convictions. Jessica—the High Times magazine Freedom Fighter of the March 2010 issue—often demonstrates eloquently fierce intelligence right alongside an almost childlike obliviousness to decorum. From CU to Johns Hopkins University, where she studied public policy, and on to Washington, D.C., where she served as a press secretary for Republican senators Fred Thompson and Olympia Snowe, Jessica always has vocally opposed anything she sees as politically correct nonsense. At CU she started a group called Equal Opportunity Alliance, which tried to get the race box eliminated from college applications. For a while, it seemed to have broad support. "But when people found out there was this Republican white girl behind it, there was all this backlash," she says. "The bill failed, and I remember thinking, 'Screw this, I'm done with politics.'  " Then, not long before she graduated, she got a call from a Denver lawyer named Rob Corry, who had read about her work. He was 11 and a half years her senior, had attended CU and shared her love for Buffalo football, had lived in the same D.C. neighborhood she once had, and was a libertarian Republican. The two bonded instantly as friends and colleagues, and Rob courted Jessica over the next year. "Everything was, me too, me too, me too," she says.

The new couple also had a shared passion for thumbing their noses at the establishment. In 2004, when Jessica ran unsuccessfully for state senator, she ignored advisers who told her to not have Rob speak publicly about marijuana issues. She also revealed her own full-throated taste for controversy in 2006, when, to celebrate her older daughter's first birthday, she penned a column for the Denver Post that argued for marijuana legalization around the same time she helped launch the advocacy group GOCAMP (Guarding Our Children Against Marijuana Prohibition). "I got letters from prominent Republicans, some of them elected officials, saying that I was writing my political eulogy, but I told them, 'I'm just getting started,' " she says. "Many of them are friends who will whisper about how insane the drug war is, but people steer clear of it because it still can be a politically devastating issue."

Jessica doesn't whisper about anything; to hear her tell it, she's already convinced all kinds of people like herself. Anyone who has hand-wringing angst over the medical marijuana movement's disdain for children will hear Jessica's argument that American drug policy is generational child abuse that bankrupts our economy and obfuscates the truth about marijuana, to the eternal harm of children everywhere. In fact, many women, including moms, are diving into the business because of a belief in the cause as well as the financial opportunity. "It's an interesting line to walk being a mom and also part of this movement," says Jan Cole, one of Rob's clients and a mother of two who owns the Greenleaf Farms dispensary in Boulder. "I worried that I might not get invited to the PTA meetings, or that my daughters might get shoved aside," she says. "But, if anything, it's been very warm and welcoming. I'm hoping these places will evolve to where women can walk in, feel safe, and find a healthier alternative to pharmaceuticals."

Those who tout marijuana's benefits are bewildered that the drug is so demonized by a culture that not only condones, but celebrates, alcohol use. Marijuana is generally acknowledged to be less harmful than booze, especially in that, unlike alcohol, marijuana does not incite its users to violence. (Government studies have estimated that alcohol contributes to up to 30 percent of all violent crime in the United States, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has shown that about 35,000 Americans die annually from the overuse of alcohol; meanwhile, no study has ever connected long-term marijuana use to higher rates of death or violence.) Even state Senator Romer, a prominent advocate for regulating medical marijuana, admits that he might eventually see the wisdom of legalizing it altogether. "Given my children's experience, the most dangerous thing I see on college campuses right now is binge drinking, not marijuana," he says. SAFER's Mason Tvert says our national love affair with booze, combined with our knee-jerk suspicion of marijuana, borders on the absurd. "Can you imagine if our baseball stadium was called Cannabis Therapeutics Park?" he asks. "That seems crazy, but why is it crazier than Coors Field?"

The Corrys' own experience with alcohol offers a graphic illustration of just how much chaos booze can trigger. In 2005, married and with their first daughter just months old, the Corrys hosted a party at their home in Arvada, where they lived at the time. One of the guests was a family friend who decided to spend the night in a spare bedroom. Sometime after 2 a.m., as the workaholic Jessica fired off e-mails in another part of the house—her work-related messages are often time-stamped well past midnight—Rob slipped into the woman's room and found her asleep. The woman claimed Rob took advantage of her while she was in a narcoleptic state—she suffered from the sleep disorder—and news reports say that in her grogginess she initially thought Rob was her boyfriend, who also had attended the party but had left earlier. In statements to police, the woman said that she awoke to find herself naked while a man was trying to have sex with her. The pair did not have intercourse; however, she momentarily performed oral sex on Corry before the sound of his voice roused her enough that she shooed him from the room.

The woman reported the incident to the Arvada police a few days later, and the police department investigated the case for almost two months. The investigation included surreptitiously taped conversations between the woman and Rob; she also alleged that the Corrys had her followed and alternately tried to intimidate her and buy her silence, which the Corrys deny. Finally, in November 2005, police charged Rob with two counts of sexual assault and one count of unwanted sexual contact.

The Corrys have always pressed their most dearly held causes with vehement spin, and this one has been no exception. Both contend that there was personal and political motivation behind the charges, from the accuser and the authorities. That's why, Rob and Jessica now say, the couple that fell in love because of their shared tenacity and appetite for a good fight, instead chose to cut and run. Worried that a conviction on any count could mean that Rob would be forbidden from living under the same roof as his child, Rob's attorneys devised a treatment plan designed to placate both the prosecution and the court. In January 2007, Rob pled guilty to third-degree assault, a class one misdemeanor, which means he is not legally considered to be a sex offender. The judge sentenced him to 60 days in jail, five years' probation, and substance-abuse evaluation.

Although the presiding judge accepted the plea deal, the sentencing hearing transcript leaves little doubt about how she viewed the evidence. In it, she slapped away the Corrys' attempt to frame the case as being about adultery, saying that, although she hoped they could find a way to save their marriage, "It has nothing to do with this case. What this has to do with is that [Rob] chose to go into the room and physically and sexually assault a woman who did not want that." She added that Rob's decision to sexually violate someone is why she "[could] not in good conscience allow [him] to walk out of the courtroom today," and she sentenced him to 60 days in jail, despite the defense attorney's ardent request for probation only.

Despite having now served two jail sentences, Rob's professional persona seems perpetually coated in Teflon. After the Arvada incident, the Colorado Supreme Court's Attorney Regulation Counsel (ARC) reviewed the case and, in October 2007, suspended him for one year and one day. But ARC stayed the penalty pending his successful completion of a three-year probation. (ARC's probation, which expires later this year, runs concurrently with Rob's five-year probation from the Arvada case, which ends in early 2012.)

Rob Corry has never stopped practicing law; even during his trial and jail terms, he merely sent associates to cover for him whenever necessary. In fact, he says he actually increased his client base after pleading guilty because he met a few people in jail who later hired his services, and he still spins the Arvada case as being more about adultery than anything more nefarious. "I've got two strikes," he says. "I know I was morally wrong on the night I went into that room to cheat on my wife." The Corrys still insist that Rob has never committed a crime. The two have gone through extensive marriage counseling, and Rob says the process of reconciliation remains "very difficult, and always will be." He knows his convictions will forever be attached to his name and used to undermine his credibility, and he's resigned to it, even though, in the eyes of some, he's getting off easy.

More than four years after that night in Arvada, after countless hours of soul-searching and even some informal short-term separations—Jessica euphemizes them as "breathers"—the Corrys say they remain committed to each other. Whether it's out of marital duty or a keen sense of personal ambition—Rob's medical marijuana crusade continues, and Jessica says she might run for office again someday—is anyone's guess. "We were humbled, and it's made us better people, lawyers, advocates, and parents," Jessica says. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but I'm almost at a point where I can say it was an essential part of what I've become. I can no longer walk around pretending to be the perfect PTA mom with the perfect husband, house, and educational pedigree, because that's not who I am anymore. I've seen so many people in politics try to fool everyone into thinking they're perfect, and in the process they only end up fooling themselves."