Victims of the Drug War

Caelan MacTavish

As if the US “war on drugs” was not absurd enough, it has now claimed its first marijuana-related casualty.

Jonathan Magbie, a quadriplegic, was sentenced to a 10-day jail sentence in Washington, DC for possession of one joint. He died four days into his sentence.

What makes this death truly horrific is that it occurred contrary to the will of DC voters. In 1998, 70% of voters approved a medical marijuana law, similar to the one here in Oregon. It never took effect, however, because Rep. Bob Barr (of the “get government out of our lives” Republican party) legislatively killed the initiative on the federal level. He tacked on an amendment to an appropriations bill (whence DC gets its entire budget) that would have denied the city any money at all for the year if local officials attempted to “enact or carry out” any democratically approved initiative that would reduce criminal penalties for possession of any kind of drug.

DC caved, to keep its city running. Although the amendment was found to be unconstitutional the next year, a federal appeals court reinstated it in 2002, preventing people in wheelchairs from legally smoking pot.

At his hearing, DC Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin could have given Magbie probation, since it was his first criminal offense. But she asked him if he would continue to smoke marijuana in the future, and when he replied that he would, she sentenced him to jail time for his honesty.

While in custody, Magbie, who was paralyzed in a car wreck when he was 4, saw his health rapidly deteriorate. He required a tracheotomy tube, a pulmonary pacemaker, and a ventilator at night to breathe in his sleep. Doctors at the Department of Corrections did not have the equipment to sustain his health, and despite Judge Retchin’s knowledge of this, she sentenced him to what became a death sentence.

Just last month, US Army veteran Steven Tuck was lying in a Canadian hospital bed. He fled to Canada after his plants were raided in California by DEA agents. He smoked marijuana to alleviate chronic pain from a 1987 parachuting accident.

Canadian authorities arrested him on his gurney, drove him to the border, and delivered him to US agents, and he then spent five days in jail—all with a catheter still attached to his penis. He was offered no medical treatment during his stay in the hospital, and his lawyer, Doug Hiatt, said, “This is totally inhumane. He’s been tortured for days for no reason.”

Extradition for drug use is becoming a common phenomenon, as the “war on drugs” goes international. On July 29 Marc Emery was arrested by DEA agents in Vancouver, BC for selling seeds. Let me reiterate: a Canadian citizen was arrested on Canadian soil by American agents for a crime which, in Canada, is punishable only by a fine. The US, which has engineered prison time for Emery while they try to extradite him to America, wants to charge him in US courts for activities that took place in Canada, and give him a life sentence for what is not a jail time offense in Emery’s home country.

How much further will this madness go? In 2004, there were 771,605 arrests for marijuana. Approximately 686,000 of these arrests were for marijuana possession, not distribution. All violent crimes combined to make 590,528 arrests in the same year.

Our prisons are bursting with potheads, while violent criminals are set free to make room for more. Is this really making us safer? “The Emperor Has No Clothes,” by Jack Herer, the most comprehensive study of marijuana in existence, shows marijuana has been used medically for thousands of years.  The recent criminalization and anti-drug rhetoric contradict all known evidence about marijuana. Some FBI agents who routinely give lectures on the dangers of marijuana have never heard of Herer’s book.  Dedicating themselves to arresting a marijuana user every 41 seconds, their manpower to track and detect potential terrorism is significantly reduced.

It is time to concede the “war on drugs” and let the drugs win. It is not working; it is a constant destabilization to our society. The era of marijuana prohibition, only 68 years old, needs to end. As Oregon doctor Fred Oerther said, “More Americans die in just one day in prisons, penitentiaries, jails, and stockades than have ever died from marijuana throughout history. Who are they protecting? From what?”

They certainly did not protect Jonathan Magbie. Must we let quadriplegics die so that our fear of a safe, healthy drug may live?



  • BlueNote (unverified)

    This story is sickening, as are those lying anti-marijuana commercials sponsored by the "partnership for a drug free America" aka John Ashcroft & Friends.

    We need to start electing enlightened prosecutors who will use their discretionary powers to stop prosecuting low level victimless crimes. Too late for this poor guy.

  • stone cold sober (unverified)

    Yes, the war on drugs is a horror of unspeakable magnitude.

    So, head count now, which congressional Democrats want to end it?

    The Dems had the White House for eight years and what did they end up having to show for it on the drug war reform front? More pot arrests than all the other previous administrations combined.

    You all are just as bad (or worse) on the drug war issue than the righty reactionaries. I say worse because when Democrats are in control all the complaining about the drug war from their side suddenly goes silent.

    Both parties are guilty of crimes against humanity on this issue.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    It's a very sad story made worse by President George W. Bush -- the first admitted life-long drug abuser to be elected President of the United States.

    W admits he was drunk or high every day of his life from age 16 to age 40. W even boasted about his huge consumption of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana abuse on tape with a friend!

    POTUS has one DUI, Cheney has TWO, one in a school zone.

    No wonder these boyz are so clueless, they high!

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    It's a very sad story made worse by President George W. Bush -- the first admitted life-long drug abuser to be elected President of the United States.

    W admits he was drunk or high every day of his life from age 16 to age 40. W even boasted about his huge consumption of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana abuse on tape with a friend!

    POTUS has one DUI, Cheney has TWO, one in a school zone.

    No wonder these boyz are so clueless, they high!

  • Josh (unverified)

    But let's get real about Oregon. NO-BODY is in an Oregon stateprison for smoking a joint or even possessing twenty or thirty of them. Oregon continues to have infraction (traffic ticket-like) treatment of small amounts of pot and its only the Feds that are unrealistic about marijauna.

  • Trista Okel (unverified)

    I write in response to the travesty of Jonathan Magbie. On October 3-8th of 2004, I was able to be in DC and protest with Loretta Nall (US Marijuana Party) in front of Judge Judith Retchin's Courtroom. She is the judge who sentenced Mr. Magbie to what resulted in a death sentence.

    In response to Josh: I faced incarceration for growing 3 marijuana plants under a forty watt flourescent. I served about 6 hours in the Clackamas County Jail, (where Rapist/Murderer Ward Weaver was being housed at the time), and I awaited trial for almost a year. I was released on my own recognizance since I was a first time offender, but originally, my bail was set at $40,000.
    Once the 'plants' were dried out, they weighed a TOTAL of 32.8 grams. The DA in Marion County would not drop the case, offer a misdemeanor, or make any decent 'offers' because he was "certain that marijuana is NOT medicine." I was charged with two counts: A Class 'A' Felony Manufacturing of a controlled substance charge, and a Class 'A' Felony Possession of a controlled substance charge. Note that the "possession" charges were for the very same plants I was being charged with growing. I was able to go to trial and use an Affirmative Medical Necessity Defense, as I have 3 OMMP qualifying conditions.
    Luckily, because my mother had the ability to refinance her house, I was able to hire an attorney who is an expert in marijuana law.
    My first attorney took us for $6500 and told me "I didn't have a case." He is still taking me to collections for an additional $5000 that he didn't do the work for.
    My second attorney is an expert, did a great job, gave us a great deal, and it still was not inexpensive. The point of all of this: I was LUCKY and privileged to have the resources to take it to trial. Not everyone is that 'lucky.'
    After a two day trial, I was acquitted by a jury in 8 minutes, 11-1. The DA didn't have time to finish his cigarette outside before we were all called back up into the courtroom. I was so grateful, so shocked, I cried. For over a year, I was unable to leave the house due to agoraphobia, made much, much worse by the system's involvement in my life. At this moment, I was free.
    I am a full-time medical marijuana activist/advocate now, because there are many ways that the War On Marijuana [Drugs] hurts families, communities, etc., even right here at home in Oregon.
    Thanks for considering another perspective on the issue.
    Regards, Trista Okel

  • John Young (unverified)

    Our friends have to suffer at the hands of corrupt politicions who have nothing to gain but $$$ by keeping MJ illegal. How many people have to die from NOT having the marijuana they need to survive, for the rest of the nation to wake up and smell whats under the Bush. It stinks. MrFixit, Oregon Green Free

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)


    Thank you for sharing your story. Overall the war on drugs is just a political tool that individuals use to levy fear against the people so they are willing to give up their rights, their money, and the ability to live in a free society with less crime. At the core of the drug war is the necessity for the government to have some form of enemy, or boogeyman, it can use to allow it to expand its power for the benefit of those in control. We, as voters, need to exercise a very high level of intellectual certainty if we are ever to reverse that trend and see an end to the drug war.

    Sincerely, Wes Wagner Publisher NW Meridian

  • Ms. Cris Ericson (unverified)

    Hi! Caelan! Your statement is extremely well written. I'm a political candidate in Vermont. I am the only political candidate in the U.S.A. who has been on any official election ballot for Marijuana party affiliation. 2004 election results Cris Ericson, MJP for U.S. Senator and for Governor of Vermont. I am running again for 2006. In 2004 I came in 3rd out of 6 candidates for two offices but I won the Vermont Kid's Mock Election for U.S. Senate. Those kids will turn 18. My number one political goal is to Make Marijuana Legal. MAKE MARIJUANA LEGAL 2006 VOTE CRIS Cris Ericson, 879 Church Street, Chester, Vermont 05143-9375 (802) 875-4038 [email protected] I am a 53 year old widow with no kids. My husband died of cancer in 1995. I live alone with a dog and four cats. Under election laws, a spouse can spend as much money as they want on their spouse's campaign. In 2004 I received so little in donations I wasn't legally obligated to report. When I read the facts you present, Caelan, I think it wouldn't be wrong for me to do something like find a rich husband to support my campaign. If I can win the race for U.S. Senate in Vermont 2006, and if I can speak up in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. every day and demand the legalization of marijuana under the Constitution of the United States which guarantees us equal protection under the law, which to me means equal protection to not be punished and prosecuted and imprisoned for using products like marijuana which are equally or LESS dangerous than products including alcoholic beverages, skis, hang gliders, hunting rifles, etc., If I can win I will speak up daily until marijuana is legalized. Knowing how much people are suffering from marijuana prohibition, would it be wrong for me to advertise to find a millionaire husband willing to support my campaign? The millionaire husband could be any man at least 21 years of age. Let me know what you think, Caelan, you have a good head on your shoulders. Cris (802)875-4038

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