For 30 years, former Judge Doug Bench enforced marijuana prohibition in Florida. Then a serious illness forced him to break that law in order to save his life.
"I hated marijuana," Judge Bench confessed while discussing drug reform last year. "I hated the use of marijuana and the violation of the law."
That changed in 2015 when he was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - a life-threatening disease that Bench began illicitly treating with medical marijuana.
"I had no choice," Bench confessed. "If i wanted to live. I had to violate Florida law."
But what he regrets most is the time he spent putting "put 311 people in jail" for similar nonviolent cannabis offenses.
"I've been haunted for 30 years, wondering how many of those were using it for medical reasons," he said during the public hearing in 2017.
Now, Bench is trying to prevent others from having to break the law to get the medicine they need. He is advocating for an expansion of the Florida medical marijuana program to include conditions like COPD. Without that change, he says the state's strict marijuana regulations are essentially a death sentence for patients like him.
"If I had to medicate under Florida law, I'd be dead."