Most Americans want pot to be legal, and as many as 70% of Americans want to legalize it for medical use. Nonetheless, the war on pot rages on. The Obama administration has actually increased raids on state-sanctioned medical pot programs, prosecuting both patients and their providers. Medical pot defendants have little protection in the justice system, which denies as evidence mention of their marijuana prescription or state-sanctioned use. A review of some of the sentences over the past few decades -- punishments that plague individuals for decades, even after release -- reveals the injustice of the drug war. Here's a rundown of the people who received the harshest penalties handed down for pot in recent history.
1. Christopher Williams
A Montana medical marijuana provider is facing 82 to 85 years behind bars, due to mandatory minimum laws linked to some of his charges. Convicted of crimes like manufacturing marijuana, intent to distribute and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, Christopher Williams appeared to be in the for the worst. But in a rare move this September, U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter offered to drop four of Williams’ charges and bring his sentencing down to “as little as 10 years,” so long as Williams waived his right to appeal.
Williams refused the offer on moral grounds. The case isn’t about medical pot, says Williams, whose judge prohibited discussion of Montana’s medical marijuana program at trial. Rather, he says, it is about government abuse of power. “I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable,” Williams wrote to the Independent Record, “Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost.”
Michael Donahoe, Williams’ attorney, said that federal prosecutors often bring gun charges against medical marijuana defendants without the intent to prosecute them. Rather, they are hoping for a plea bargain -- one Williams is not willing to take.
“We know this for two reasons,” Donahoe told the Missoulan, “First, because the government readily agreed to dismiss the firearms counts for virtually every other medical marijuana defendant in those cases where firearms violations had been charged. And second, because insofar as [Williams’] ‘conspiracy’ is concerned, every other defendant had no real choice but to plead guilty in exchange for the firearms charges being dropped.”
He added, “Given the government’s conduct here that was a false choice inspired by an abusive exercise of government power, considering that it was the government’s reckless decision to change its medical marijuana policy that was the first cause of all these problems.”
2. Patricia Spottedcrow
Oklahoma mother of four Patricia Spottedcrow learned firsthand how a small-time pot bust can completely derail an offender’s life. A $31 pot sale got her a stunning 12-year prison sentence. In the two years she has been incarcerated, she has seen her children only twice. What’s more, her good behavior behind bars, including completing her GED and other self-improvement programs, has not reduced the confusing back-and-forth from the Pardon and Parole Board.A judge recently reduced Spottedcrow’s sentence to eight years, because “she needs more time to prepare and mature.” The latest frustration in her case came at the close of this summer, when the parole board withdrew her parole restrictions before suspending them, delaying her beginning of a work-release program. She spent just minutes at the work-release facility, Hillside Correctional Center in Oklahoma City, before being sent back in cuffs to Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft. Unfortunately for Spottedcrow and her family, who are surviving on a limited income, they can afford to make the trip to make the trip to Hillside, but not to Eddie Warrior.
Spottedcrow told KFOR-TV in Oklahoma, “I’m not gonna give up until I walk out the gate...I’ve got my mom and my kids out there waiting on me. Whatever it takes to get me to them I’m going to do it. I’ve been doing it.”
3. Jonathan Magbie
Jonathan Magbie's story is a stunning example of the cruelty that can accompany an arrest for medical marijuana. Paralyzed from the neck down after being hit by a drunk driver at the age of four, Magpie was charged with marijuana possession in 2004 after cops found a joint and a loaded gun in a vehicle in which he was the passenger. Though he had never been convicted of a criminal offense and required medical assistance 20 hours a day, he was given a 10-day sentence in a DC jail. With no ventilator to sustain his breathing, he died in jail four days later.
Magbie’s marijuana punishment was a death sentence. Without their medication behind bars, pot patients who make it out alive have endured days, weeks or years without their medication. Even after release, conditions of parole, including urine tests, may prevent patients from accessing their medicine.
4. Robert Platshorn
Robert Platshorn is famous for being a marijuana trafficker. A leader of what the DEA dubbed the "Black Tuna Gang," Platshorn spent the mid- to late-'70s smuggling weed into the US from Colombia before he was busted in 1978. Authorities accused him of importing as much as 500 tons of pot, and Platshorn gained infamy for his connection to what the DEA said was the most sophisticated drug operation it had seen yet. He was sentenced to 30 years, 28 of which he served until he was released on parole in 2008. Because Platshorn served nearly the full length of his sentence, he has taken on another label, this time as the man believed to have spent the most time locked up for pot in America.