Laura Kriho, a staunch marijuana activist whose actions as a juror resulted in a high-profile mistrial during a drug case, died Monday at the age of 52, according to friends and family.
“Those of you who knew her know that she was a beautiful person,” her brother, Nicholas, posted on Facebook. “Look up Laura Kriho and see what an impact she has had on this world.”
Kriho, who lived in Nederland and more recently in Boulder and started the Cannabis Therapy Institute, was one of the key figures in moving the state toward Amendment 20 — which allowed for medical marijuana — and later Amendment 64, which allowed recreational marijuana use.
“Ms. Kriho was at the forefront of the original movement that laid the foundation for Amendment 20,” said Rico Garcia, a marijuana advocate who runs Cannabis Alliance for Regulation and Education. “And without Amendment 20, there is not Amendment 64.”
While Kriho helped lay the foundation for it, she was actually critical of Amendment 64. She felt that Amendment 64 was not true legalization, but more regulation.
“It was either freedom or nothing,” Garcia said.
Garcia said that her style sometimes put her at odds with those in the industry.
“She was a little ball of fire, and she didn’t care about telling anyone exactly how it was,” Garcia said. “She was activism with no filters, and she was quick to let people know what was unfair and unjust.”
Aside from her activism, Kriho was known as a symbol of the jury nullification movement after she was a lone holdout, forcing a mistrial in a drug case. The jury nullification movement held that jurors could find a suspect not guilty if they disagreed with the laws, regardless of whether prosecutors were able to present a case.
Kriho was hit with a contempt of court charge after a fellow juror reported to First Judicial District Court Judge Kenneth Barnhill that Kriho discussed sentencing and jury nullification. Kriho also was charged with perjury for not explicitly revealing a 1984 felony drug conviction during the jury selection process.
“I tried to do my job as a juror well,” Kriho said at the time. “Now I feel I am being unfairly singled out and punished for coming up with the wrong verdict.”
Kriho was later found guilty, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
Clint Talbott was an editor with the Colorado Daily at the time of the case, so he was familiar with Kriho’s story. In 2014, Talbott — now the director of communications with the University of Colorado’s College of Arts and Sciences — saw Kriho’s name come up as a candidate for a job opening.
But Talbott said after they discussed the case, he hired her on at CU as a publications coordinator anyway.
“Some people might have thought, ‘I don’t know, this is a person who has trouble with authority,’ but I think people are too willing to write off people who don’t fit into neat categories,” Talbott said. “She was a great employee, extremely smart, ethical and a good person. Exactly the kind of employee you would want to have.”
Talbott said Kriho didn’t talk much about her activism or the jury nullification case at work. But he said the qualities that made her a staunch activist made her good at her job as well.
“What became clear in working with her is that she had a very strong conviction about certain things, and the legalization of marijuana was one of them,” Talbott said. “That kind of conviction showed up in things like commitment to doing things at the university.”
Talbott said Kriho had been ill in recent months and was working from home before she died.
“I was her boss, but I also feel like I lost a friend,” Talbott said. “I really respected her as a person of conviction and courage.”
Garcia said that conviction and courage served Kriho well in an industry without a lot of outspoken women.
“Anyone who was anyone at the foundation of this now world-famous industry that started in Colorado knew who Ms. Kriho was,” Garcia said. “Whether they liked her or not, nobody could say she wasn’t intelligent.”
Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, firstname.lastname@example.org or @mitchellbyars