Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My upcoming column in Skunk Magazine

So here's a tasty new column that I feel like sharing. The magazine is Skunk, published in Canada, a pro-pot magazine; my column is called Drug War Follies and it's been running about 9 years now. Wow! How lucky did I get?

Drug War Follies #76

Life for Pot Brownies? That ain’t sweet, but it is Texas. Oh, and the Rev. Roger Christie just got 5 years for his church work in Hawaii. And then there’s a family of Medical Marijuana users in Washington facing federal charges that carry 40-years. Goddamn! Now that’s the good ol’ USfuckingA, eh?

By Peter Gorman

It’s a pity that in this freaking day and age we still don’t have to look very far to find people who are being crucified by drug laws. Thirty years ago, having a joint got one poor sucker 40 years in a Texas prison. And while I was working for another marijuana magazine, I regularly covered cases where people with little or no marijuana were killed by police who’d been given false information by informants looking to buy their way out of their own problems. Others were locked up for 20-30 years on the word of those informants who claimed to have been in a criminal conspiracy with the defendants—often when there was no marijuana to prove even the slimmest connection between the informant and the poor bastard on the other end of the stick.
    But hey, pot’s legal in Colorado and Washington states, and medical marijuana is legal in more than two dozen, and hell, even in Texas they’ve gone soft: simple possession of less than 2 ounces gets you a max of 180 days in the county jail. So like, things are fucking cool now, right? Not for the illegals, of course, where a joint will get you up to five years in a private prison cell while you await deportation.
   But for the rest of us, it’s like no biggie these days, right?
   Well, no. Not right. People are still getting screwed left, right and center. One of them who popped up onto the radar recently was Jacob Lavoro, from Round Rock, Texas, who’s facing possible life for making pot brownies.
   He probably made a zillion and sold them to kindergarteners, I bet. He deserves what he gets, the bastard!
   Not exactly. In fact, Lavoro only had a couple of grams—but it was hash oil. His recipe evidently called for the oil rather than pot—and in Texas, hash and hash oil is considered much more serious than marijuana. A gram of third-rate Moroccan still gets you two years in Texas. But then here’s the twist: When using hashish in making food, the entire weight of the food is counted. Remember that carrier-weight thing with LSD, where the paper was included in the weight of the LSD you were charged with? Well, paper is bad enough. But in Lavoro’s case, there was butter, flour, a couple of egg yolks, sugar and chocolate all going into the pound-and-a-half batch of brownies he was making when busted. So he’s been charged with possession with intent to distribute 1 ½ pounds of hashish—which carries 5 years to life. Damn, and he’s gonna have to have that heard in front of a Texas jury, notorious for going for the max.
    I feel like getting real snarky here, but the other part of me just feels awful for Lavolo. And ashamed and angry at the prosecutor who would go that route with a couple of grams of hash oil. And embarrassed to be living in Texas and not having fixed this. Just a bad bad deal. Good luck, Lavolo.
    Yeah, okay, but like that’s not happening anywhere else, right? I mean, everybody knows Texas is a state where stupid people rule the roost, right? The rest of the U.S. is better than that, right?
    Well, no. Not really. And even in places that are cooler than Texas—everywhere but other parts of the South—federal law can come in a totally fuck things up. In Washington State, which, like Colorado has not only legalized medical marijuana but recreational pot as well, a family of four and a close friend are facing up to 40 years each for a legal medical pot grow. Yes, you heard that right: 40 years each for a freaking legal medical pot grow.
    Larry Harvey, 70, his wife Rhonda, 55, their son Rolland Gregg, 33, and his wife Michelle, 35—along with Jason Zucker, a family friend, had a legal med-mar grow on Harvey’s land, way out in the boonies next to a national forest near the Canadian border. Legal, in this case, means that all five had a legit medical reason for smoking pot, doctor’s recommendations for it, and a license to grow it.
   The shitstorm started when a flyby from the state’s Civil Air Patrol noticed the grow in 2012. When state law enforcement paid the Harvey’s a visit shortly afterward they counted 74 plants—the law allows for 15 plants per patient—but told the Harvey’s they would have to remove a few as collective grows had a limit of 45 plants, regardless of how many people were part of the collective. The officers removed 29 of the plants and left. No charges were filed.
   Unfortunately, a week later the DEA showed up and weren’t nearly as nice. They seized the remaining plants, dried marijuana and some pot edibles. And an old car, a motorcycle, a shotgun, a hunting rifle and a legal handgun—which they use for protection and hunting in an area where cougars and bears abound. A couple of months later, they were charged with six felony counts each, including manufacturing, possession, and distribution of marijuana, along with the kicker: possession of a firearm in the furtherance of drug trafficking. And the feds upped the manufacturing from the 45 plants they had to “more than 100” by claiming there was evidence they’d grown previously and added those imaginary plants to the real ones.
    All defendants have turned down plea deals—which can backfire badly since they won’t be able to discuss medical marijuana and their legal grow in federal court. So five people acting well within the law on a state level are facing an aggregate 200 years in the big house.
    Way to go U.S. You really suck sometimes.
On a more positive note, though still sad, Reverend Roger Christie, minister of the THC Ministry, which utilized marijuana as a sacrament, has taken a plea deal which might have him out of prison in the next several months.
    Christie has been held since in the federal lockup in Honolulu since July, 2010, when he, his wife and a dozen others were indicted for possession and distribution of marijuana and a litany of related charges. The plea deal, for five years plus four more years of supervised parole and drug testing, will give him time served, so he should only have to do several more months. His wife Shere, who has been out on bond, is expected to get 27 months when she’s sentenced in her plea deal. A dozen other church members were also busted and took a plea.
    Hard to imagine calling it a “more positive note” when we’re talking about a good guy and his wife who never hurt anyone and helped an awful lot of people getting five years in prison. How is it that we live in a world where that really is good news because it sounds so reasonable compared to the 5-to-life for a couple of grams of hash oil or facing 40 for a legit medical marijuana grow?
    This is really a mess, people. This needs fixing and it needs fixing fast. We’ve lost millions of man and woman years to the pot war. We’ve created a monster with the private prison industry that thrives on the souls of non-violent pot and drug users. We’ve allowed the unfettered growth of militarized police forces that storm houses where pot is suspected to be grown with military assault tactics.
    This needs cleaning up now more than ever. Inroads have been made and that’s good. But the backlash is severe. We’re gonna have to stick it out till a whole new paradigm is in place, one that does not punish good people whose only crime is preferring to get high on pot instead of beer.
    The Drug Enforcement Administration won’t like seeing their numbers halved once pot is really legal. They will drum up monstrous horror stories about the new and stronger pot, the killer pot, the whatever marijuana to justify keeping cannabis on their Schedule One list and themselves in business. And local law enforcement is not going to like seeing their easy pickin’ forfeiture monies, the monies that pay for all that military equipment they’re sporting these days, disappear. They will fight tooth and nail to keep those funds rolling in as well. And even if some politicians come around because they can see the potential of marijuana’s tax revenue, that money won’t go directly to the policing agencies like forfeiture money does.
    So keep moving the ball down the field, but know that resistance from the private prison industry, from police agencies, from the DEA is coming. And do your best not to let them come for you.

It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.

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