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Trafficking in tomato soup

Today's rant was going to be about State v. Hereford, in which the 8th District upheld a conviction for trafficking in marijuana.  The defendant was caught with "11 individually sealed bags" containing 16 grams of marijuana.  That's a little over half an ounce; one can possess six times that amount and still be committing only a minor misdemeanor.  Hereford wound up with a conviction for preparation for sale -- a 5th degree felony -- because the police testified that the packaging "was consistent with someone selling drugs."

I was going to rant about the absurdity of this.  Obviously, if this is the way drug dealers package marijuana, it's also the way drug users purchase it.  If I like tomato soup, I may decide to purchase more than one can at a time when I go to the store, especially if the store is in a bad neighborhood and operated by shady characters.  In fact, I might decide to buy a whole case of tomato soup just so I'll have it when I want it.  That doesn't make me a tomato soup dealer.

I was going to rant about all this, until I checked Hereford's record.  He's got eight prior cases.  The judge who convicted him, in a bench trial, of this latest one is the most liberal in the Justice Center.  So maybe he was trafficking.

But you know what?  I'm going to rant about it anyway.  No, I'm not blaming the appellate court; they can only review it for weight and sufficiency of the evidence, and the conviction's supportable on that basis.  But when our schools and infrastructure are crumbling, the devotion of finite resources to the prosecution of low-level marijuana dealers -- even assuming they're dealers -- is simply nuts.

There's been a debate for a number of years now about legalizing drugs, and I'm on the fence about that.  There's no question that there are some dangerous drugs out there, and witnessing what the crack cocaine epidemic did to the black community for the past couple of decades can't make anyone sanguine about the prospect of permitting greater drug use, which is what legalization would unquestionably do.

On the other hand, the drug war is almost solely responsible for the evisceration of the 4th Amendment, and if you want to bemoan how drugs have affected the black community, chew on this:  Black people are 13 percent of drug users -- about the same as their percentage of the U.S. population -- but are 35 percent of those arrested for drug possession, 55 percent of those convicted of drug charges, and 74 percent of those sent to prison on drug charges.  In a dozen states, 30 to 40 percent of young black men will lose their right to vote because of felony convictions.  The war on drugs is primarily responsible for that.

As I said, there are some dangerous drugs out there.  Marijuana isn't one of them; the next death resulting from marijuana use will be the first.  I suppose there's an argument to be made for prosecuting high-level marijuana dealers.  But to prosecute some guy with eleven little baggies of the stuff, just to pad the arrest and conviction statistics of police departments and prosecutors' offices, does far more damage to society than anything in those eleven little baggies.

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