Who are marijuana defendants?

I have interacted with hundreds of cannabis consumers. First as a public defender, then a prosecutor, and finally as a private defense attorney. Much of the debate over cannabis prohibition is about the plant and the effects of smoking said plant. Let me share my experience with the more important aspect, the people we arrest and prosecute for marihuana possession.

Talking about such a large population of defendants without delving into broad stereotypes is impossible. There is probably a neo nazi terrorist serial killer somewhere who loved marijuana. I’ve never met such a person but probability guarantees at least a few such cases. Instead of individuals let us paint in broad strokes, starting with young adults.

I believe that children are the future, put them on probation and make them pee and pay
It never ceases to amaze me that the group most often arrested, prosecuted, probated, and incarcerated for marijuana possession is the same group that gets the most government anticannabis propaganda. I would guesstimate (and NORML confirms) that at least 1/2 of the possession cases involve defendants under 25.

It seems that the above the influence/pushing back/ondcp nonsense is being rejected by the target audience.

Why do we tolerate the arrest and prosecution of our young people for marijuana possession? Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George W, and President Obama all used marijuana in their younger days. They were lucky enough to avoid law enforcement and went on to reach our nation’s highest political offices.

It is absurd that we rely on the failure of law enforcement to protect our future leaders from the wrath of the criminal justice system. Statistically this approach makes sense. I would guess that 99.9% of all marijuana usage events occur without police intervention.

However, those who do get caught are sacrificed to the idol of prohibition and shackled with a permanent criminal record. Our young adults deserve better than this cruel reverse lottery.

Side note on probation/criminal records- Texas does not allow for the expunction of probation cases. Even deferred adjudication probation will leave a permanent arrest record. We are sabotaging the future of our young adults and branding them criminals.

Young adults make awful criminal defendants. They routinely confess that there is a joint in the car, or allow the police to search, or otherwise assist law enforcement in their own persecution. Fish in a barrel.

I will say that the internet age and the wealth of advice on handling police encounters is starting to make a difference, but not enough. Schools should teach police encounter self defense right after the Just Say No DARE class.

This group can also struggle with the demands of probation. Reporting, fines, fees, community service, drug education classes, drug testing, no drinking, don’t go to bars, keep a job, don’t leave the state, inter alia. Can you think of a worse time to be constantly monitored by the government than your early 20s? I’m surprised anyone under 25 finishes probation.

Older Users

I’ve represented more than a few older cannabis consumers. A lot of adults smoke pot, and not just burned out hippie types. According to our government the hard working mortgage paying career climbing pot smoker doesn’t exist. Just like John Walter’s “there are not pot smokers in jail” unicorn, this creature is also real. Don’t believe me? Here is a list from the Agitator of successful pot smokers.

Many adults believe that smoking pot can be healthier than drinking or smoking cigarettes. They have made an informed decision to pursue cannabis for recreation instead of the government approved alternatives. I’ve had defendants tell me they never drink alcohol because of the health effects. Marijuana is their recreational choice.

The government establishment rejects this heresy and continues to waste millions of your tax dollars defending their orthodoxy. History has shown that change is possible, if not certain.. It took a while but eventually heliocentrism caught on everywhere, even in Texas.

Medical Marijuana Patients
While not a substantial population of defendants (our lege has failed to lead on MM legislation) I have seen those seeking relief from chronic and/or terminal illness. Texas’ first successful cannabis necessity defense was last year in Amarillo. There is no certainty that defense would work in all MM cases (it’s largely up the judge to allow MM evidence) and many MM patients never go to trial.

The stress of coming to court/sitting through trial, the cost of trial, and the risk of jail are so great that many MM cases plea bargain.

Rather than just debate the merits of legalizing a plant, we should also ask why we continue to arrest our friends, neighbors, adult children, and the infirm among us for the “crime” of cannabis possession. If cruel and unusual has any meaning, the arbitrary life altering arrest of thousands of Texans each year should meet that definition.

Posted in:

2 responses to “Who are marijuana defendants?”

  1. Gena says:

    Good column, great questions.

  2. Mary O'Grady says:

    Thanks for including Al Gore in your list of presidents. Too many of us forget that in 2000, W was selected, not elected.

Contact Information