Mountain View man sues feds for medical marijuana


A 46-year-old Mountain View man on federal probation for marijuana distribution is suing the U.S. District Court Probation Office and three probation officers in an effort to gain access to medical marijuana or Marinol.

Aaron Zeeman, who filed the civil suit pro se, without an attorney, suffers from rat lungworm disease. He said marijuana or Marinol (dronabinol), a capsule containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — helps lessen his dependence on narcotics to ease what he describes as severe chronic pain.

The suit, filed July 22 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, names Keola Jenkins, Zeeman’s probation officer, Felix S. Mata, the chief federal probation officer in Hawaii, and Jonathan K. Skedelski, Mata’s deputy chief, plus unnamed Doe defendants. It alleges their refusal to allow Zeeman medical marijuana or Marinol violates his rights to due process, equal protection, equal treatment and privacy. He is also alleging the denial of his request violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and is cruel and unusual punishment. He further alleges misrepresentation of the facts concerning the availability of an alternative prescription medication by an unnamed officer of the court.

Zeeman, who is on Social Security disability and Medicaid, claims he has suffered severe emotional and physical distress, and is seeking $75,000 per ADA violation, plus compensatory and punitive damages, as well as costs.

Zeeman, was one of the “Green 14” co-defendants in the highly publicized Roger Christie marijuana case and pleaded guilty to four counts of marijuana distribution. He was sentenced June 19 by U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi to two years probation.

“Special conditions of my probation that the judge signed off on says that I’m not allowed to use marijuana, or possess marijuana, or THC in any of its forms, or any part of the cannabis plant, without prior authorization of the probation department,” Zeeman said prior to filing suit.

Zeeman said he asked the probation office for permission to use medical marijuana or Marinol and was denied. He has a prescription for Marinol from Dr. Richard Lee-Ching, a Hilo family practitioner.

“It’s right there in my terms and conditions of probation: ‘without prior approval,’” he said. “That implies that they do have (power of) approval. It’s in their paperwork. … There’s no due process.”

Zeeman said he is taking Percocet, a combination of the semi-synthetic opioid painkiller oxycodone and the over-the-counter pain medication acetominophen, and Xanax, a prescription anti-anxiety drug.

“I filed a motion to use my Marinol and they said no. I’ve got letters from my doctor, the whole thing.”

Lee-Ching said Friday Zeeman “continues to have significant symptoms” from the ailment, which is also called eosinophilic meningitis. It’s caused by a parasitic nematode carried by slugs and snails, which infects humans through improperly washed fruits and vegetables.

“This is not a cut-and-dried thing where you have an infection and the obvious antidote is ‘x’ medication,” Lee-Ching said. “This is something where we tried a bunch of other things and nothing seems to work, so this is just another. The painkillers really don’t work all that well on it and there’s really not much treatment for what he’s got.”

Zeeman has started taking Marinol in defiance of the probation office and has failed at least two drug tests, which came back positive for THC. He said he’s “waiting on pins and needles” to be arrested for violating probation.

“I’m under a lot of stress,” he said. “I went over four years while my criminal case was active, 130 drug tests — stellar clean, every one of them, while I’m suffering and getting more messed up on all these pills. It’s terrible.

“The Marinol takes away 10 to 20 percent of the pain right off the top. It does not work as well as Percocet for pain. But it takes the edge off and makes it easier to sleep. I take these Percocets, these narcotics, and they keep you up. You take one at night and they keep you up. I was taking Ambien to knock me out from the Percocets. And I was taking Xanax because the Percocets put me on edge.”

Zeeman alleges an unnamed officer of the court told the judge Cesamet (nabilone), a synthetic cannabinoid used to quell nausea and vomiting in cancer chemotherapy patients, could be prescribed in lieu of Marinol. The suit states Medicaid will not cover Cesamet for Zeeman and the monthly price is between $1,400 and $1,700. The website GoodRx.com lists Cesamet prices as more than $850 for 30 capsules.

“He knew I was indigent. He knew I couldn’t afford it. They put me down the rabbit hole,” Zeeman said. “I could have not taken the Marinol and continued to suffer the next year or two. But I’ve been suffering for four years straight, every day. I wake up in the morning and it feels like my arm is broken. … I get weird phantom pains that just shoot through me from out of nowhere.”

Zeeman said he no longer wants to use Percocet or Xanax.

“I want to get off all of them,” he said. “I realize I may have these symptoms the rest of my life and I’m learning to deal with the pain. If they let me have medical marijuana — and they can — I’ll be free of these Percocets.”

Mata said Monday he hadn’t been served with the lawsuit and didn’t comment further.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.