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February 16, 2013


Many years ago I stood in front of a judge in New York - the charge? Possession of marijuana.

Guilty or not guilty? I was asked.

Tough question, under the circumstances.Yet you might ask, why a tough question?

The answer, "not guilty".

So why then, did I plead guilty? The answer: I didn't have a choice.

The story: It was in 1985, and I took a weeks vacation to go back to my hometown for my sister's wedding. One of my hobbies was in the use of a metal detector, searching for buried treasure. Our country begins in the 1700's, even earlier in some respects. My hobby includes that history, and finding relics from the past. But during this weekend vacation I found a brass pipe. A pipe used to smoke cannabis - marijuana to some. I cleaned it up and it was passed around with cannabis after my sister was married.

When I drove the 12 hour drive back to Boston afterwards, that pipe was special to me. I put it on the passenger seat of my car under some stuff. In the middle of nowhere on a rural highway I sat at a traffic light waiting in a drizzling rain for a car coming in my direction to pass. As I made my left hand turn after the car passed up a hill, the light began to change to red. I made my turn while it was yellow. By coincidence a New York state trooper was just coming over the rise of the hill I turned onto, and to him it appeared I went through a red light. He pulled me over. I was about 5 hours from being back in Boston. Being back to where I called home.

He asked me to step out of my car. I had been smoking a cigarette and I kind of waved it in the air in front of me as the red lights of the cruiser flashed. I was tired. I wanted to be back home. I put out the cigarette in the ashtray, and the officer apparently was suspicious. He asked if he could search my car. I said yes. He found the pipe.

Until last year I didn't realize that the law in NY regarding cannabis was regulated towards cannabis that was in clear view. What i mean is, the law in NY State at the time as now is it is only a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana if the marijuana is in the open. If it is not in the open it is a simple fine, like a traffic violation. It doesn't matter if an officer in NY asks to search a person, the cannabis has to be in view prior to the search if under a certain amount. And what I had was a pipe, no cannabis.

I had coins - old coins and relics in my car that I'd found metal detecting that I'd shown my family and friends. I had tools in the trunk of my Saab 99, then 15 years old or so used to repair it if necessary. More state troopers showed up. My car was thoroughly searched... no marijuana, just a pipe, coins, mechanical tools and dirty laundry. They accused me of being a thief - having burglar tools and stolen coins. They suspected I was intoxicated. I explained the descriptions on all the coins in paper holders were in my handwriting, the tools to fix my car.

I was taken to State police headquarters... the officer who had pulled me over wanted the captain to give me a breathalyser. I was in hand-cuffs. The captain sat and talked to me, asked a few questions, and when the officer came back in eager to test me as I agreed to, the captain laughed, and told the officer I wasn't drunk, but if he wanted to calibrate their equipment, go for it.

I was let go. I paid a ticket for the red light through the mail. But the charge for possession of marijuana required me to drive 5 hours back to the area to appear in court, with the chance of a $1000 fine and a year in jail. My father set me up with a city district attorney who provided legal advice.  He was able to postpone the first court appearance. And again, not only did I only have a pipe found, but it wasn't in clear view and so what I didn't know then was it wasn't a a crime in the way it was being pursued.

I finally went to court, two months later. The judge was a guy 10 years or so older than me but all business - very intimidating. He made clear I could be sentenced to a year in jail if I pleaded guilty to possession. So did the attorney my dad provided for me. The key to the case according to the attorney was - had the pipe been used to smoke marijuana in the past 3 days prior to the police finding it? Answer, yes. So the question wasn't whether I was guilty, it was whether I was guilty of possession of marijuana, or was I guilty of possession of drug paraphernalia? Oddly, the penalty for the latter was more severe then simple possession. I noted the "arresting" officer, in quotes as i wasn't formally arrested or read my rights wasn't even present in the courtroom. I guess that's a myth, that they have to be present. Afraid of pissing off the judge I pleaded guilty hoping to avoid jail-time, which I did. He charged me a fine of $50 times 2 - for the appearance the attorney had postponed, meaning I paid $100. No jail time.

What I didn't know then was that I'd actually pleaded guilty to a felony conviction, as once the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 happened, background checks became very common place when applying for a job, especially at a public place like a school, hospital, government office.

At the time of the terrorist attack I was actually working at a school... a job I wouldn't be able to have today. See, marijuana in the n-word when it comes to background checks. In the real world it is common for men to have histories of violence, domestic abuse, even being a registered sex offender. But that's men for you, ha ha... they're noted for their testosterone... and violent behavior. They're often given a chance, whereas marijuana is associated with "drug use", and rarely are drug users given a chance. Since Sept. 11, 2001 most employers ask you to include any criminal violations whether misdemeanor or felonies on the application. If one lies and they find out later you lied on your application you lose the job.

It's been 28 years since I was found in possession of that pipe, and I still live with that life sentence. I'm the nigger in the room. I'm a druggie. I may have a BA degree, a medical degree, experience as a fine, upstanding employee in many schools behind me, but today, I'm the nigger in the room. A white guy nigger. Because of a marijuana pipe.

But the times, they are a'changing... in 2012 marijuana, which I prefer not to call it as it's historically been used as a derogatory euphemism targeted towards Mexican people and Blacks, Jazz musicians and druggies, so I choose to call it by it's proper name, cannabis, is now legal for recreational use in CO and WA, in addition to some 18 states where medical use is legal.

Considering I'm treated on par with a murderer in many states how does this change my situation? Well, that depends on who you're talking to. It's fairly obvious the War on drugs as put forth starting with President Nixon, and highlighted by President Reagan is at an end.

The problem is that the war on drugs has made victims of millions of Americans, and until the federal government acts to reverse the discrimination it's produced, many of us will die criminals.

In my next post, to be published very soon, you will see where so called studies on cannabis unfairly target it as more dangerous than legal fare, simply because we're talking the difference between calories and the devil. There are politicians who could care less about righting a wrong - that rather than consider their constuency, the people that elected them, they make and maintain laws based on personal preference. You will see where health concerns for cannabis when equally set next to common foods produce unequal results, based solely on cannabis being the elephant in the room, or as I'm perceived, the nigger in the room.

NH may soon be the 3rd State to legalize cannabis, HB 492 will decide that. But if some politicians in this state have their way, that'll never happen. Why? I propsoe to show that it's their personal opinion and it has nothing to do with those who voted them into office. I propose to show that studies of cannabis in comparison with common foods is skewed by prejudicial opinion.

Cannabis has been legal now in CO and WA for recreational use since at least the beginning of the year, and despite fears of zombies and vampires, nothing has happened. The world didn't end. Reefer madness is and always has been a myth... a myth that ended my life.

Stop the Hurt! It's time we got real.