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America’s 20 Millionth Marijuana Arrest

An odometer roll over effect of sickening proportions is about to happen this October: American law enforcement will make its 20-millionth marijuana arrest.

Regrettably however, our country will not be one step closer to any solution of this “problem” than we were when the federal government first started arresting people for cannabis seventy-one years ago today, with the first federal cannabis prohibition arrest of Samuel Caldwell.

Halfway through this epoch in American history known as cannabis prohibition, Richard M. Nixon’s own handpicked Shafer Commission studied cannabis for nearly two years and concluded: no criminal penalties for adult possession of 100 grams of marijuana.

Nixon was shocked by their findings and tried to bury the Shafer Commission’s report. Nixon instead proceeded with the “don’t try to confuse me with the facts, I’ve got my mind made up” approach to governance, and the full-scale war on cannabis commenced.

After four decades, this institutionalized war on ganja and its users grows larger with each passing year. This war on otherwise law-abiding cannabis consumers has created literally millions and millions of unnecessary tribulations, taxpayer costs and casualties. In the period 1965-2007* there were 19,342,363 arrests for cannabis offenses, 89% of them for the possession of a small quantity of cannabis. Just before Election Day 2008, cops will arrest their 20-millionth man (or woman) for cannabis.

And if you’re a regular ol’ cannabis consumer or a medical cannabis patient in need of one’s medicine, that tragic 20 millionth arrest could be you!

Could be it be me, or one my loved ones!

At the current pace of arrest, the 20-millionth cannabis arrest will happen by Oct. 10, 2008, within a week of the 71st anniversary of America’s very first federal cannabis arrest of the terminally ill Sam Caldwell in 1937.

Who will he or she be, this unlucky person? Who will be the 20,000,000th victim of arrest during America’s cannabis prohibition?

Watch out! It could be you!

*1937-1965 marijuana arrest data is sketchy, but this adds many tens of thousands more arrests to the total. 2007 was the worst year on record with a total of 872,721 marijuana arrests, up 5% from 2006.

**The numbers of Americans arrested for marijuana offenses now are so huge, perhaps the only way to get a grip on the humanity of this prohibition-driven social disaster, is to think of just a few of the people who have paid the ultimate price since I joined NORML’s Board of Directors in 2004, those who actually lost their lives in the enforcement of cannabis prohibition.

John Walters, Bush’s Drug Czar, appearing on C-Span recently said, “We didn’t arrest 800,000 marijuana users…that’s [a] lie… The fact is today, people don’t go to jail for possession of marijuana. Finding somebody in jail or prison for possession of marijuana is like finding a Unicorn. It doesn’t exist.” Well, Walters is either lying or not reading his FBI Crime Reports, or both. Please, take an extra moment and look through this list of four cannabis prohibition victims to see if you can find a ‘Unicorn’.

1) Jonathan Magbie, RIP: Washington D.C., died Oct. 30, 2004. A wheelchair-bound, 28-year old, African-American paraplegic who needed a respirator to breathe at night. Jonathan was sentenced to 10 days in jail for the possession of one single joint. His mother tried frantically for days to get Jonathan’s respirator to him through the jail’s paperwork. He died on the fourth day of his jail sentence from respiratory failure, just a few miles from the White House, ONDCP, DEA and other multi-billion federal bureaucracies waging a war on cannabis, when in stark reality their war is directed at folks like Jonathan Magbie.

2) Timothy Garon, RIP organ transplant patient from Washington State, died May 1, 2008. Timothy was first on an organ transplant recipient list until a prohibitionist medical administrator busted Timothy off the list because Timothy tested positive for the medical marijuana that had been legally recommended and administered by his own doctor. Timothy died in Seattle while his case was under appeal.

3) Rachel Hoffman, RIP, 23, Tallahassee, Fl was last seen alive on May 7, 2008. After two small quantity pot arrests, and a search of Rachel’s home that found a little more, the cops forced Rachel to go undercover without telling her parents or lawyer, by using the fear of the much more serious charges that might be filed against her if she didn’t do what the police demanded. The cops then placed Rachel on a baited hook and went trolling for sharks. The Tallahassee police department sent Rachel out to try to make a crack and firearms buy. Rachel Hoffman was found dead in a nearby county two days later.

Then there is cannabis prohibition’s first official victim…

Samuel R. Caldwell, RIP, America’s first federal marijuana arrest, Denver, CO, Oct. 5, 1937. Arrested for selling two joints the day federal prohibition laws went into effect and was sentenced just two days later to four years in Leavenworth. Sam died of stomach cancer before his sentence was up. Sam Caldwell, America’s first incarcerated medical marijuana patient!

Just four ‘Unicorn’ sightings from America’s 20-million marijuana arrests…and remember: 872,000 annual cannabis arrests, 2,390 arrest per day, 99 arrests per hour, one every 37 seconds. Just imagine how many more ‘unicorns’ there are, and are you like me when I say I’m insulted that a cabinet level officer in the Executive Branch has to lie to downplay the negative and costly effects of his $25 billion a year bureaucracy’s failure to actual control cannabis cultivation, sales and consumption.

Hey Walters, how about some tax stamps for cannabis consumers just like your friends in the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries enjoy?

“We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For.” — Pueblo saying
While the staff at NORML and the NORML Foundation assiduously avoid including funding requests in their blog posts and news alerts, as a NORML Board member I’m asking you to join the other board members and I in helping to expand NORML’s uniquely important educational, legislative and litigation programs—as well as allowing the national office to be as supportive and responsive as possible to the organization’s growing networks of both state chapters and lawyers.

I will be moderating a panel at NORML’s upcoming 37th annual national conference in Berkeley entitled: What If We Arrested 20 Million Americans—And No One Cared?

These public conferences are the most important political gatherings of the year for the cannabis law reform community and I hope you, your family and like-minded friends can join us October 17-19. Conference details found here.

By George Rohrbacher, NORML Board member