Three Pounds of Marijuana, Eight Years in Jail

Another drug war example.

Not long after I posted on the Little Rock story, the following popped up in my FB feed via AL.com:  Rastafarian gets 8 years in Mississippi prison for medical marijuana.

A Jamaican-born Rastafarian musician from Oregon, Beadle, 46, was on a cross-country trip when he was pulled over in Madison County, Mississippi, on the morning of March 7, 2017, Mississippi Today recently reported. In the car was nearly three pounds of marijuana, which Beadle said he obtained legally in Oregon with his medical marijuana license to help treat the chronic pain in both of his knees after years of playing college basketball.

In Oregon, he might have faced a civil fine for possessing too much marijuana at one time. But it was a different story in Madison County, where he was arrested and charged with trafficking in a controlled substance, an offense with a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. In July, an all-white jury took all of 25 minutes to convict Beadle, who is black.

On Monday, Beadle was sentenced to eight years without the possibility of parole, the Clarion Ledger reported. Under the Mississippi penal code, a trafficking conviction does not allow parole or probation.

[…]

During the course of his trial, prosecutors had conceded that, beyond the large amount of marijuana stashed in his vehicle, there was no evidence of trafficking, such as a scale, bags for distribution, large sums of money or weapons, the Clarion Ledger reported. As a result, Beadle’s attorneys urged Madison County Circuit Court Judge William Chapman to sentence Beadle for simple possession instead. But during Beadle’s sentencing hearing this week, Chapman declined, saying he must have respect for the jury’s findings.

Now, I will readily admit that driving through Mississippi with any amount of marijuana, especially as a black man, does not show a serious lack of thinking through what one is doing.  Nonetheless, the question has to be asked:  is possessing three pounds of marijuana really worth eight years of a human being’s life?

A combination of fear and Puritanism has lead to laws that are clearly not just. We should care what the effects of our laws are on the lives of our fellow human beings.

And, of course, there is this:

Beadle’s case highlighted the splintered nature of marijuana penalties across the United States as more states move toward decriminalization or legalization while others remain resistant.

Perhaps the ongoing experience in places like California, Oregon, Colorado, and now all of Canada will provide needed evidence to demonstrate a need to change the laws.

To date all evidence suggests that the social cost of marijuana is far lower than that of alcohol.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Drug Policy, Law and the Courts
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    In July, an all-white jury took all of 25 minutes to convict Beadle, who is black.

    I’m way more willing than most to think there is a racial element to a lot of our justice system, but sometimes cases are really clear.

    Was he in possession of three pounds of marijuana? Yup.
    Does the law require a trafficking conviction with more than X amount? Yup.

    That’s a quick deliberation.

    The jury may be a bunch of racists (just for the sake of argument), but that wouldn’t have affected the outcome. Any racial bias that affected the result was likely at play in the arrest, prosecution and sentencing.

    Three pounds is a whole lot of pot. More than one may can use in a reasonable time frame. And his defense, that is was Medical Marijuana from Oregon, is to admit to federal offenses.

    I’m not going to blame the jury here.

    Beadle’s attorneys urged Madison County Circuit Court Judge William Chapman to sentence Beadle for simple possession instead. But during Beadle’s sentencing hearing this week, Chapman declined, saying he must have respect for the jury’s findings.

    Are judges allowed to change what the jury has convicted a defendant of? That seems like an odd request. The judge did give 8 years rather than 40, and seems to have been doing his job.

    There’s a lot of stuff that is unjust here (pot is really harmless, and shouldn’t result in someone losing a decade of their life), but at least at first glance, the judge and the jury seem to be fine — they are following the law.

    I think you have the wrong focus in this post — at least in the sections of the news articles that you are choosing to quote. It muddles the message that the laws are way too harsh.

    I think pot should just be legalized, taxed and regulated. Washington State pot is pretty great because of the consistency, and fewer lives are being destroyed. It’s good for everyone.

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  2. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: In WA state I asked a woman who worked at a weed store “What happens if Sessions and the other dumb assholes do a federal crackdown on these shops?” and she replied, “Nothing would change at all. Now that it’s legal here everyone in the industry has met everyone else in the industry and there’s nothing the feds could do to stop it.”

  3. @Gustopher: To be clear, I am blaming the law itself.

  4. James Pearce says:

    To date all evidence suggests that the social cost of marijuana is far lower than that of alcohol.

    The social cost of prohibition, on the other hand…

    I wonder if Beadle’s attorneys moved to dismiss the trafficking charges in favor of “simple possession.” I mean, 3 pounds is a lot. That’s like a year’s supply for a daily smoker, probably $2000 worth of weed. Is the difference between “trafficking” and “simple possession” based solely on quantity?

    But no, none of this is worth putting a man in jail for 8 years.

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  5. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher: @Steven L. Taylor: I’m gonna shock both of you and say that race might have had something to do with why Beadle was stopped and searched:

    For this reason, the case also brought renewed attention to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed in 2017 against Madison County that claims black people there are targeted aggressively by the police while going about their everyday lives.

    He was stopped because he allegedly crossed the fog line. They probably shouldn’t have been searching his car at all.

    How much you want to bet it was a “Can we take a look in your car?” kind of deal?

    (But yeah, I think the jury should not be blamed. The judge? Maybe so.)

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  6. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce:

    Is the difference between “trafficking” and “simple possession” based solely on quantity?

    In a lot of states, if not all states, yes.

    This makes sense if you have a tractor trailer filled with pot, since there is no way to consume that much in your lifetime. You’re either a collector taking his collection around with him, or a trafficker.

    It makes less sense at some smaller level. Three pounds of pot is a lot, but not really in the “we busted a massive pot distribution ring” level of a lot.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’m gonna shock both of you and say that race might have had something to do with why Beadle was stopped and searched

    Does not surprise me, even from you.

    What does surprise me is that cops are way better at noticing the race of drivers around them than I am. The numbers bear it out, so I have no real doubt of it, but I’m a little surprised none the less. Do other people notice this? I’m mostly looking for the big metal cars and the dinky bicyclists to pay attention to that…

    I am not surprised that they treat black folks differently once they do pull them over.

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  8. Lynn says:

    There were child molesters in the prison treatment groups who got lighter sentences than that.

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  9. Teve says:

    This makes sense if you have a tractor trailer filled with pot, since there is no way to consume that much in your lifetime.

    Hold my beer.

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  10. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    It makes less sense at some smaller level. Three pounds of pot is a lot, but not really in the “we busted a massive pot distribution ring” level of a lot.

    While that’s true, every “drug dealer” I scored from in the pre-legal days only had about a pound of inventory max. When we’re talking about pounds, I automatically think of it in those terms: inventory.

    I’ve never met anyone who had that much in their own personal stash. If I did, I’d Dr. Gonzo them with a Thompsonesque, “As your attorney, I’d advise you not to take it on your road trip.”

    What does surprise me is that cops are way better at noticing the race of drivers around them than I am.

    I’m not sure they notice until they get up to the window. Then this cop goes, “Rasta-dude with Oregon plates? Let’s go fishing.”

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  11. Leonard says:

    A white guy from Kentucky gets arrested in Chicago with 14 handguns in his trunk. They were legally purchased in his home state, and there’s no proof he was going to sell them in Chicacgo. If he gets 8 years in prison, that sounds right. He broke the law.

  12. Slugger says:

    There has to be some balance between the gravity of the crime and the severity of the punishment. We can’t destroy people because they violated some arbitrary law. This type of draconian sentence will destroy the respect for our institutions of law that is important a equitable society.

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  13. An Interested Party says:

    We can’t destroy people because they violated some arbitrary law.

    If only more people in positions of power felt the same way…

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  14. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Statistically, cop stop whites at a 3-1 ratio to blacks nationwide. That should mean that there are 3 times the number of whites incarcerated than blacks right? WRONG. Over half the number of inmates nationally are black men.

    The criminal “justice” system is a farce….perpetuated by white men to destroy non-white communities. Red State…. Blue State… doesn’t matter. The outcomes are the same. Lots of whites get stopped…lots of blacks go to jail.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Yeah, funny how it works out that way, huh?

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  16. dennis says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’m not sure they notice until they get up to the window.

    Sorry, dude. As s retired fed who’s shotgunned thousands of vehicles in my career, I assure you the race of the driver is noticed before the stop.

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  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher: Up in the STL area I can nearly always tell the race of the driver by the number of cop cars. If it’s more than one, 95 times out of a hundred the driver is black.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Leonard: Nobody ever shot someone with a doobie.

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  19. Tyrell says:

    @Leonard: In this case and the Mississippi case it is evident that the legal system is behind the times and has some catching up to do. With many states weakening the marijuana possession and distribution laws it is obvious the direction here. I would guess that few violent crimes are linked to the marijuana use.
    As far as the gun issue, things are more complicated. All I know is that I would not go into Chicago without some sort of protection.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell:

    All I know is that I would not go into Chicago without some sort of protection.

    You’d be a fool to go into Chicago with a gun.