Have you heard the story about the wife of a gubernatorial candidate pleading guilty to a marijuana charge? Mike Weinholtz, the Democratic candidate for governor of Utah, came out today in support of medical marijuana reform, standing next to his wife, Donna, who was caught by police with a stash of marijuana.
Donna’s story resonates with me. Like Donna, I was caught with marijuana in Utah two years ago. Like Donna, I was charged with a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana. Like Donna, I made a deal with prosecutors to avoid serving any time in jail.
That’s where the similarities between my marijuana misdemeanor and Donna’s marijuana misdemeanor end.
I was stopped in Utah on a road trip to Colorado from Oregon. The driver, my assistant, and I stopped at a small town gas station. There were some police there and they seemed to pay particular attention to my assistant. Maybe they were just admiring his knee-length dreadlocks.
Shortly after we departed the gas station, we were pulled over by a county sheriff’s SUV. While we were driving by at freeway speeds, the deputy noticed that the car we were driving had window tint that was 13% too dark under state law, you see.
The deputy, having solved the case of the darkened windows, then asked the driver to step out of the car for a little chat. During the chat, he told the deputy he was a medical marijuana patient. So he called more police to run the drug dogs around the car.
During the search, the police found numerous marijuana products that my assistant, without my knowledge, had brought along. One such item was stashed in my laptop bag, a vapor pen with residue.
The deputy then slapped the cuffs on me and my assistant. We were placed in the back of two separate police cars and driven to the count jail. We were there in a cage for the six hours it took to raise bail, $1,200 in my case.
For what the state claimed was 0.02 grams of marijuana, I was charged with a misdemeanor possession and a paraphernalia ticket, cuffed and stuffed, and driven to the county jail. I sat there in jail for the six hours it took to process and get myself bailed out, which required $1,200.
Over the next eighteen months, my charges were dropped and my $1,200 returned. Then the charges were reinstated. I spent $750 on a lawyer, who worked out a deal with the prosecutors. I could plead guilty to a possession misdemeanor with no jail time and, surprise, a $1,200 fine. In exchange, the court would hold the plea in abeyance, which meant if I made $100 payments for twelve months, the charge would disappear and I’d have no criminal record.
Donna, on the other hand, was mailing marijuana to their other home in California (why?). This evidence of a federal felony was found by US Postal Inspectors. That led to a search warrant for the couple’s Salt Lake City home. There, they found two pounds of marijuana, which is a felony in Utah that can earn five years of prison time. Still, the feds didn’t want the case (too little) and turned it over to the Salt Lake County prosecutors.
Those prosecutors were convinced that Donna wasn’t involved in any sort of drug trade. They believe that her husband Mike had no idea what she was up to. She claims she had two pounds of marijuana and needed to mail some to California because she is treating her serious medical conditions. So the prosecutors passed on the felony charges and offered her a misdemeanor charge with a similar plea in abeyance – no jail time and no criminal record after a year.
Donna’s fine was a bit higher at $3,800. Otherwise, her act of federal interstate marijuana trafficking that led cops to find a two pound stash at her home earned the same punishment in Utah as my driving in a car with tinted windows with one one-thousandth of one percent that amount of marijuana.
But she doesn’t wear dreadlocks. And I’m not sick.