Prison for Pot

Judges continue to hand down harsh sentences for marijuana-related charges

Last winter, Kaleb Phillips stalked a man to a Maryland parking lot, then gunned him down for being in the wrong gang. Phillips and six of his friends plotted the murder of Arnold Fagans for several hours and abruptly ended his life outside of his apartment on Jan. 12.

Last Thursday, Phillips, 20, took his medicine in the form of a 30-year sentence, half of which must be served, because gunning people down is a violent crime. Yes, he won't be eligible for parole for 15 years. Violence, being so aggravating, is an aggravating factor when it comes to murder sentencing. Give worse, get worse.

Or not.

In 2011, Chris Williams tried to offer compassion and choice to hundreds of medical-marijuana patients from a storefront in Helena, Mont. With some friends, he plotted the patients' well-being and recovery, then brought it to them freely, openly and under no veil of deceit or misgiving. However, there was a gun in his dispensary when the feds crashed in.

Williams may have to take his medicine in the form of a minimum 90-year sentence in federal prison. He won't be eligible for parole. Ever. Guns are bad, mmmkay? Even if they aren't yours and don't have any of your fingerprints on them. So the feds stacked up three consecutive, mandatory 25-year sentences (with another 15-plus years thanks to other charges) on Williams, who is appealing his September jury convictions on drug-trafficking with guns—a high-stakes version of running with scissors, if you will.

Williams got the jackboot despite the Obama administration's vow not to hassle folks who are operating within state laws. Another bit of ridiculousness came in the case when Judge Dana Christensen refused to allow Williams to even mention that he was meticulously following state law. Like the nefarious honey badger, federal judges don't give a shit! They just take what they want!

I understand the legalities. It's a non sequitur to argue in federal court that you are following state law. But when the law unveils a disconnect from reality, um, maybe reality should win?

There is a similar disconnect in Tucson, where local authorities jackbooted the Green Halo Caregiver Collective back in July. Four people were arrested for, as a Tucson Police spokeswoman put it, "essentially" selling marijuana. Bullshit. They were offering legal patient transactions in a secure place. No one was selling marijuana. The Counter Narcotics Alliance Task Force knew that. That's why no one was charged with selling marijuana. That case is awaiting action, leaving four Tucsonans eyeing their individual swords of Damocles for the holidays.

At some point in our current slide toward legalization, as more and more states OK cannabis for various reasons and uses, the disconnect between the law and reality gets ridiculous. Eventually, we will hit a critical mass on two things—people who want cannabis legal, and people who think fighting it is an absurd waste of money (not necessarily the same groups). When those two groups decide enough is enough, the federal government will have to end prohibition. You can fight City Hall, but you can't fight the masses.

Until then, we will exist in a surreal nether region where some folks go to jail forever for transparently trying to help their fellow man, and violent murderers might eventually get to go home after gunning down someone who is in the wrong gang.

So, happy holidays, Chris. The same goes to the four people the authorities refused to name in the Green Halo bust. I'll be thinking about you off and on over the next month, and also about the thousands of other everyday people tossed behind bars on cannabis charges for no good reason.

Ho, ho, ho.

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