Warring on the sick

By David Herrick, Prisoner of the Drug War

I too am a prisoner of the war on drugs, having been sentenced to four years in state prison for "aiding and abetting" in the furnishing of marijuana to a terminally ill, 73-year-old cancer patient.

I worked as a volunteer for a Cannabis Buyer's Club, and I am also a bona fide patient who possesses a valid recommendation to use cannabis from a physician, as did the members of my club. The total amount of marijuana that I furnished came to 21 grams, or 3/4 of an ounce.

The director of the club, Martin Chavez, received a six-year sentence for providing seven grams, or 1/4 of an ounce of marijuana to an undercover police officer who produced forged documents stating that he was a caregiver to one of our patient/members.

So for an ounce of marijuana, we are serving a combined total of 10 years in prison. Martin must serve 80% of his sentence, while I will serve 29 months with three years parole.

Out of the 300 inmates on this yard, I would say that 70% are in for nonviolent drug-related 'crimes': either use, sales, possession, transportation or cultivation. The number serving time for marijuana alone is simply phenomenal.

The war on drugs is taking its toll on our young people. I would say the median age in this dorm, and the prison in general, is 22 years old. We have inmates from 18 years old to 85 years old here.

I guess it can be argued that drugs have played a role in most of the 'crimes' that were committed. If you removed everyone here that was sentenced for nonviolent 'drug crimes', this place would be virtually empty. From what I understand the same goes for California in general, as well as the whole nation.

I was the first volunteer of a cannabis co-op/buyer's club to be criminally tried and convicted since the passage of Prop 215 (California's medical marijuana initiative), and the first to be heard in appellate court. Since I was not allowed to put up a defense, (the trial judge ruled that Prop 215 did not cover sales, and refused the medical necessity argument), I literally had no defense to present to the jury.

I have argued that a necessity did exist, since no government sanctioned distribution system for medical marijuana was in place, and that a jury should be allowed to hear and decide this issue, not the trial judge. I have also argued that although Prop 215 did not technically cover sales, small quantities of marijuana should be available to patients who cannot cultivate or purchase their own due to their illness or physical impairment. Although no formal decision has come forth as of this writing, my attorney is not hopeful of the outcome, and, frankly, neither am I.

This issue has and will continue to be an uphill struggle, but we are slowly making progress.