portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states

drug war | human & civil rights | police / legal

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

As the proud parent of five home-schooled children, I constantly look for opportunities to incorporate real-life experiences into their education. One such chance arose the other day when a friend of mine, an attorney representing a young woman charged with the manufacturing of marijuana, asked for courtroom support during her trial. Some might ask why I would bring my children to something like this, but the answer is simple. The young woman in question was a medical marijuana patient, as is their mother. I wanted my children to understand how our justice system works from all aspects, both prosecution and defense, as well as judge and jury. I also wanted them to see how our new home state of Oregon treated medical marijuana patients, since we just moved more than three thousand miles in order for their mother to legally use the only medicine that helps her to function semi-normally.
Overall, I was disappointed by what we witnessed. The prosecution had their points; Trista Okel, the defendant, was not a legal patient at the time the police discovered three scrawny plants in her basement while conducting other business. However, Oregon law allows unregistered patients with verifiable medical conditions to get their card up to one year after an arrest, if they claim a medical defense. I still expected the prosecution to press the merits of their case, but I was ashamed at the manner in which they did so. As an educational experience, I'm sure I learned more than my children that day, but I was left wondering who those involved in our justice system really think they're serving.
When the judge, prosecutor, and law enforcement all work together to serve a specific purpose, it is in the best interest of the public to know what that agenda entails. What I discovered was that apparently all "drug users", regardless of medical necessity, are second-class citizens, deserving little personal respect. Even the judge, from whom I expected impartiality, was not immune to this bias. He displayed his views in an embarrassing manner - rolling his eyes at the defense attorney, turning his back on the physician testifying on the patient's behalf, even labeling the defendant's need to vomit (sick agoraphobics don't handle court too well) as "theatrics." By the time we reentered the courthouse after our lunch break, it was all I could do to smile politely as the staff placed sheriff badge stickers on my children's shirts. After a morning spent experiencing this side of the justice system, the only thing I wanted to do was rip them off.

Forgive my disillusionment, but I was hoping for something better - perhaps something fair and reasonable, if not compassionate. Though as I reflected on this week's news, perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised. Across the nation, there are many individuals in law enforcement who just don't get it. In California, dozens of medical marijuana patients were compelled to file lawsuits for the return of marijuana confiscated by police in opposition to Proposition 215. This is medicine; these people had legal permission to use it; there were even guidelines in place among most law enforcement agencies in the state to deal with the concept of medical marijuana, but they just didn't get it. In the same week, DEA agents raided what was openly called "the largest medical marijuana garden in the world." Despite over 80 percent of the American public and most of the medical profession believing in the therapeutic value of cannabis, DEA spokesperson Richard Meyer still claimed after the raid that "there is no such thing as medical marijuana." He just doesn't get it.
In fact, a lot of the problems that medical marijuana patients face derive simply from the fact that law enforcement doesn't get it - yet. While most of the remainder of society does by this point, cops follow a more restrictive paradigm. To them, anyone who uses drugs belongs to a subset of society that needs to be dealt with in a certain manner. This is simply "doing their job," and by doing their job, they are making our communities a better place to live. Unfortunately, they are forgetting the human element in their formula. Just ask Peter Christ, retired police officer and cofounder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He says that it isn't until cops retire that they can begin to "see the forest for the trees." It's a hard mind set to break out of, but in the long run, it's necessary.

Back in the Marion County Courthouse, it's easier to understand the behavior of the judge, prosecutor, and police officers in this context. They were all engaged in just doing their job - processing "potheads" through the system, regardless of the big picture. It didn't matter that Trista was only growing a few small plants for her own medical use; to them, society would be better served by her incarceration. They didn't care about how sick she was, or how many lives they would tragically impact, because like so many others in law enforcement, they just didn't get it. Fortunately for Trista, the jury did - she was acquitted of all charges by a landslide 11-1 decision in just 15 minutes. Which gives us some hope for our society - that despite the mind set of those who roll their eyes as a young woman vomits in the courthouse, the rest of us are starting to understand. Who knows - maybe some day soon, enough people in the right positions will "get it", so that the sick and dying can use their medicine in peace. My children already get it. Which presents a certain irony; I brought them to court as an educational experience for them, but perhaps they should have been the ones to impart the lesson.

homepage: homepage: http://www.parentsendingprohibition.org
phone: phone: 503-327-4184

rantin 18.Sep.2004 21:13

nitnar

So she failed to pay taxes on a product that the government refuses to accept taxes on. Dangling parti-what ever- was needed in my state. That is the law she broke. A tax law. IRS to the lake of fire. If you grow your own tobaco you don't pat taxes on it. Hold on. The government doesn't let people grow thier own tobaco. Too much taxes to be taken in. Ha, taken in. What a sutable phrase.

get thee to a tobacco state 18.Sep.2004 22:33

jass

The governemt does allow one to grow their own tobacco. You can smoke or chew the hell out of it if you wish.

You can't sell it retail on the street, but for your own personal use, you can do with it what you want.