I gave a client a ride to court yesterday morning. He’d flown into the Phoenix airport from the other side of the country and didn’t have transportation. It would’ve been a record-breaking cab fare for him, so I offered and he accepted.
We probably don’t have an awful lot in common, and his English is about as good as my Spanish. He’s an incredibly nice guy, though. He fielded one teary phone call after another from one family member after another during the drive. I tried not to eavesdrop, but there was one thing I couldn’t help but catch:
Daddy’s going to work. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. It might be a long time. Be a good boy. Be good to your mommy.
My client wasn’t going to work; he was going to court to plead guilty and be taken into custody. Thirty days from now, a judge will decide just how long he’ll stay behind bars.
My client is going to prison because of marijuana. It’s not because he used it, made anyone else use it, or sold it to anyone himself. He was charged with taking it on one leg of its voyage from the place where it grew from the earth and was harvested to the place where it was to be voluntarily consumed by people who enjoy it or maybe need it for medical purposes.
Because of a plant, he’s going to miss important milestones in his children’s lives. They’re going to miss their father terribly. His wife will miss him too. He’s never been in trouble before, and it’s undisputed that he’s an excellent father and a good man. He did one thing that hurt no one. Other people do it all over the country without consequences because they do it in the right place, fill out the right paperwork, and know the right people. My client’s family, on the other hand, will struggle. For years, maybe. Because of a plant.
The government will pay not just to keep my client in a cage, but perhaps to support his struggling family through various public benefits as well. It’s already paid for armies of cops to make countless stops and man checkpoints. It’s paid for wiretaps and informants, prosecutors who demand prison, judges with no control over sentencing, and an enormous cast of supporting actors who make it all happen. It’s embarrassing, honestly, that we live in a society where people with power could be so hell bent on controlling with the use of force victimless behavior that most citizens now believe should be legal.
In a few years, I have no doubt that what my client allegedly transported will indeed be legal here. Like Colorado and Washington, which have not devolved into dystopian chaos as far as I can tell, Arizona will eventually sober up and make some intelligent public policy decisions when it comes to marijuana. It’s more or less legal here already, just with some stupid pomp and circumstance. I thought about that this morning as I drove past signs for things like “Dr. Green,” who advertises “Get You Your Card Today!” I wondered where the various dispensaries we passed on the drive got their marijuana. I thought about the former clients who call me every now and again to proclaim that they are finally “legal,” that they got their “cannabis club” cards. Who knew so many of my clients once suffered through their glaucoma in silence?
Our society is pathetic, really. We’re so afraid of letting people put a naturally-occurring substance into their bodies that we inundate ourselves with stupid rules and regulations to control it. We pretend a medical-only law isn’t just a waste of paperwork. We keep it illegal in other situations distinguishable solely by the lack of a rubber stamp. When a family man makes a mistake or fails to respect the silliness, we’re willing to rip him from his family.
When it’s finally legal, I hope that everyone who participated in the process is ashamed. I’m ashamed that I couldn’t stop it yesterday, that I didn’t really even get to try. A good man who loves his children rarely stares down a mandatory sentencing range that would keep him from them until they’re almost adults. A plea it was.
It never gets easier seeing something bad happen to someone good. This time, it was a lonely drive home too.