The growth of regulated cannabis has created jobs, increased tax revenue, helped to begin curbing the opioid crisis, and, through expungement programs, ever so slightly reduced the impact the War on Drugs has had on communities of color. Legal weed’s not perfect—yet—but it’s doing more good than harm, and is a huge step up from the nationwide prohibition that existed not so long ago.
As legalization gains mainstream acceptance, it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of complacency. Because while you may be lucky enough to live where cannabis programs exist, there are places in this country where pot is an excuse to harass, imprison, and even kill people. Here are some recent examples of the true perils of reefer madness.
Prescribed medical cannabis can be dangerous, something Jamaican-born Oregon musician Patrick “BlackFire” Beadle learned the hard way. Beadle possesses an Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) card to treat chronic pain issues, and in March 2017, was driving through Mississippi. He was arrested after a traffic stop uncovered 2.89 pounds of cannabis he had legally purchased in Oregon.
Despite his OMMP cardholder status and what prosecutors admit was zero evidence of drug trafficking, Beadle was looking at 40 years in prison, and in October 2018, was sentenced to eight years without parole for drug trafficking. In February 2019, he was allowed to enter a guilty plea to simple possession, which came with a 12-year sentence, but offers potential parole after three years.
The smell of cannabis alone can be dangerous, too. In March in Virginia, four University of Lynchburg football players were leaving an early-morning workout and returning to campus when they were pulled over for what officers said was a broken tail light. According to eyewitnesses and cellphone video, the officer approached the car with his hand at the waist, then pulled his gun. Additional officers quickly arrived, handcuffed the students, who were Black, and placed them on the curb—no doubt due to what The Root wisely determined was “because of the influx of broken tail lights and the association of broken tail lights leading to murders.”
ABC’s WSET-13 News viewed the footage, and reported the officer saying, “The reason I reached for my gun is because I smelled marijuana... The Supreme Court says guns and drugs go together.” A search of the vehicle did not turn up any guns, drugs, or cannabis—nor did it reveal the officer’s missing rudimentary comprehension skill set.
Growing cannabis can be incredibly dangerous, as evidenced by a Pennsylvania man who, in July 2018, was checking on his illegal 10-plant grow on state game lands, about 75 miles outside Philadelphia. (Pennsylvania has a medical cannabis program, but it prohibits people from growing for themselves or others.) Greg Longenecker, a 51-year-old short-order cook who enjoyed gardening and the Grateful Dead, was with his friend David Light, examining their plants when authorities arrived. Light surrendered, but Longenecker chose to flee into the dense underbrush.
Authorities decided the best option would be to use a bulldozer to clear a path into the brush where Longenecker had fled. What happened next is unknown, but it’s possible Longenecker became injured or stuck while trying to move through the thick growth, as he was run over and killed by the bulldozer, which was moving at speeds of one to two miles per hour. His family filed a lawsuit for wrongful death, questioning the police account that Longenecker was high on meth and dove under the bulldozer.
As High Times reports, Light stated in an affidavit, “That morning, Gregory was not high or under the influence. There is no way Gregory crawled underneath the back of the bulldozer. It is unthinkable and ridiculous that anyone would say he crawled underneath.”
Freedom for some does not mean freedom for all. Whatever risks cannabis poses certainly shouldn’t involve any of the above, especially being run over by a bulldozer for the crime of growing 10 plants. Those with legal cannabis programs should work to ensure everyone in the country has the same access, so these become stories for the history books.