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?