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BY AARON W. JACO • AJACO@DMREG.COM • JANUARY 19, 2010
The boyish young man in the khaki slacks and brown sweater looks Warren County Attorney Bryan Tingle straight in the eyes and declares that his constitutional rights are being squashed.
He tells Tingle from his seat in the courtroom that Iowa’s legal system is treading on his freedom of religion, and on the freedom of science and medicine to explore treatment alternatives for the chronically and mentally ill.
With eyes gazing intently through his curly black hair, he tells Tingle that he’s not afraid of going to prison. And there’s a distinct possibility that, within a few weeks, he could land himself there for five years.
He tells Tingle, who stands over him in a suit and tie, that if he were to receive a prison sentence, he’d like to be held in contempt of court and serve additional time.
“I’d have serious contempt for that decision,” he says.
This is Jason Karimi, a 21-year-old Milo native whose allegiance to the illegal drug marijuana has nearly landed him in prison on multiple occasions since 2007, most recently during the above-outlined Jan. 5 probation revocation hearing.
Karimi’s is the story of how an honor student became a twice-convicted criminal. How a young man decided to treat his own mental illness with an illegal drug. How an aspiring computer technician became an amateur advocate for medical marijuana.
“I’ve had a crazy last couple of years,” Karimi said Jan. 6, leaning forward in an armchair in a friend’s Altoona apartment. “People don’t believe me, sometimes, when I try to tell them what’s happened.”
Karimi was an honor student during his senior year at Southeast Warren High School. School records for 2006-07 show he made “A” honor roll the first semester and “B” honor roll the second semester.
Also that year he played a trumpet solo, “Rock Around the Clock,” during halftime at a Warhawks football game.
Earlier in his academic career Karimi wrote an article for the district newsletter. It promoted the use of vending machines as a school fundraising source.
Meanwhile, by his own account, Karimi rarely paid attention in class. He knew answers without studying the subject matter.
On a history assignment, he used a Web site to gather information about Napoleon Bonaparte – he still pronounces it “Bonapart-ay” – and passed the information off as a report on a 1,000-page book.
Karimi was a small-time trouble maker since elementary school, but also one of the smartest kids in class, said Milo native Victoria Taggart, 21, a friend and classmate since kindergarten.
“He would always get in trouble for reading books instead of paying attention,” Taggart said. “He was such a nerd, but at the same time he was hilarious. He always had smart-ass comments, and he was so quick with them.”
During their high school years, Taggart knew that sitting down with Karimi at a party meant long conversations about “random things,” often including politics.
“I didn’t go there with Jason because it was like, ‘First of all, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and second of all, you’re going to talk forever.’ ”
The two friends split paths after high school, except for a brief encounter in late 2008. The first time they talked at length was in October 2009, when Taggart was surprised to hear Karimi’s story.
During a long phone conversation, Taggart lost Karimi’s train of thought.
She put him on speakerphone and let him ramble.
“He’s changed,” Taggart said. “I don’t know if he’s just got super smart, but I can’t follow half the things he talks about now. Maybe he just forgot my language.
“He’s always had that serious like goal-set mind and everything, but he kind of seems like he has lost a bit of his personality because he feels so strong about it,” she added. “That’s pretty much all he thinks about. But, I think it’s pretty cool. In a small town everyone’s like a little clone of their parents that graduated 20 years before they did. He actually doesn’t really care about that, and feels this strongly about an issue.”