People say that I am joking when I tell them that I’m defending a guy against federal pot charges, but when they find out that that it’s serious, they get angry: that with everything that we need to address in this country right now, our government is still wasting our resources on proven failure. You can buy an assault rifle down the street, spew toxins that destroy our planet, make billions selling opiates, spread disinformation that damages our society: but go back to your apartment after a brutal day, hit the vape pen, and you are a criminal pursuant to federal law.
You’re probably right that the feds aren’t going to arrest you for a little personal use in your own space, but if you’re poor, a person of color, or live in a state where they believe Jesus carried a machine gun, then law enforcement will arrest you in front of your family, seize your property, and destroy your future with a criminal record. And you’re definitely right that this is wrong and needs to stop, but you’re definitely wrong in sort of still believing that there’s a difference between personal use and growing and selling cannabis like it’s big business. It already is big business.
It already is big business. There are international multi-state cannabis corporations raking in billions of dollars of investment from around the world. Branding, R&D, licensing, franchising, innovation: the same unequal application of law that allows you to take a hit of your pen from the safety and security of your 35th story balcony while the less insulated are thrown in jail, is the same unequal application that has Jonathan Wall looking at life in prison while massive corporations engage in the same alleged activity. As far as I can tell, the only difference between cannabis being illegal and legal is having a board of directors made up of a lot of square-looking white guys in suits.
Really does promote insomnia that the same people who either explicitly or implicitly supported federal prohibition of cannabis—and its associated devastation—are now the ones getting rich off the pain and suffering of people who never bought into the fear and propaganda to begin with.
But whatever. I learned a long time ago, as a trial lawyer, that appeals to ideals, rationality, and fairness are a non-venatical breed of dog. There’s a small percentage of people who respond to critical thinking and eschew hypocrisy even if it involves effort and sacrifice, while the rest can be summed as: as long as it doesn’t affect me, I’m good with it. Global warming is fine as long as we have air-conditioning, Constitutional violations are cool because I have nothing to hide. You got to show people how bad policies negatively impact their money, so here goes:
The U.S. government has spent more than a trillion dollars of your money prosecuting its War on Drugs. More than $40 billion in 2020 alone. Cost of jailing one person per year is more than $40,000. Social costs of the drug war: priceless.
I may be one more annoyingly verbose lawyer now, but when I was 12 years old my father was sentenced to 35 years in prison as part of the US War on Drugs, my mother, sister and I thrown into abject poverty. We were stigmatized, illegally surveilled and harassed by law enforcement, so that our lives—like the lives of millions of other Americans—were turned into a nightmare. I know first-hand how these failed policies damage people. The pain, suffering and loss. Generations of kids who grow up visiting their parents in prison. Generations of parents who spend their lives visiting their kids. A prison industrial complex so integral to the economy that we are almost forced now to put people in cages. The highest incarceration rate of any country on the world. These are not scars, but open wounds that continue to bleed us of our vibrancy and vigor. The rule of law and all the good that arises from it is utterly dependent on the credibility of those laws. They cannot be driven by fear, irrationality and unequally applied. A healthy government, like the individual it is meant to represent, is capable of looking in the mirror and admitting its mistakes. Cannabis is effectively legal in large sections of the country and society didn’t fall apart. Nobody took a hit of pot and believed that they could fly, went on a killing spree, or started playing jazz. (Well, maybe the jazz.) Despite our withdrawal from Afghanistan leaving our friends to die, President Biden gave us a bigtime resolute speech about how tough decisions had to be made because staying the course would be mistake. Twenty years of failure and it was time to go, damn the consequences. Well, what about more than 50 years of failure, 50 years of waste, 50 years of incarcerating our own citizens, 50 years of constitutional violations and the destruction of entire communities, half a century of inflicting damage on a republic that a government by, for, and of the people, was put in place to safeguard and protect.
And if that doesn’t work for you, legalize the shit and you could make a lot of money.
Counsel for Jonathan Wall