Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

March 9, 2010 -- True/Slant (US)

A Generational Moment for Drug Policy Reformers

By Stephen C. Webster

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


John Lennon's voice is echoing somewhere over Texas tonight.

That's because a moment has arrived -- a very special moment, the likes of which drug policy reformers have not seen in a generation.

It all centers around a man named Henry Walter Wooten, a 54-year-old Texas resident who will likely be spending the rest of his life behind bars. That's because a jury in Tyler sentenced him to 35 years in jail after he was caught in possession of just over a quarter pound of marijuana. The prosecutor originally sought 99 years, due to the man's prior felony convictions in the 80s and his proximity to a day care center, deep within one of the dreaded "drug free zones" where legal penalties become much more stiff.

Thirty-five years. That's 420 months. This jury, this court and this prosecutor are sending a message directly to marijuana consumers the nation over.

It's as if radical poet, musician and author John Sinclair were never actually freed. And who is John Sinclair? If you're a drug law reform advocate, you should know this by now. First, a word from the immortal Beatle:

The song is from the "Free John Now" rally in Michigan, circa 1971, when over 15,000 people converged to protest a 10 year jail sentence over the distribution of two marijuana cigarettes. ("10 for two, John Sinclair Breakin' the rules, but he don't care.")

A decade of imprisonment over an otherwise minuscule amount of pot is just as outrageous now as it was then. Days after the "Free John Now" rally, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned Sinclair's ruling and declared the state's marijuana statues of their day unconstitutional.

In the annals of the American drug war, this was simply revolutionary. It was a cultural watershed that has not been repeated. It's not that the chance never presented itself There just hasn't been another pot prisoner like John Sinclair.

Until now.

I do not personally know Henry Walter Wooten, but he doesn't strike me as a revolutionary sort like Sinclair. He was reportedly smoking pot somewhere inside a drug free zone when police smelled the stuff -- not exactly the brightest move. They found an additional 4.6 ounces in his vehicle, along with a digital scale.

Now he's likely facing death in a cement cage; although, the greatest travesty here was that Smith County Assistant District Attorney Richard Vance first sought a sentence of 99 years. Ninety-nine years?!?

Wooten's sentence is identical to the punishment dealt to Alejandro Arreola, who was given 35 years in jail by a jury in Del Rio, Texas for his involvement in a multimillion dollar marijuana smuggling ring. Arreola, according to reports, transported over 24 TONS of the stuff into the United States. His accomplice, Casey Bob Hutto, got 24 years.

Twenty-four tons? Meet 4.6 ounces. You'll both be sitting here for three and a half decades. And I ask you, WHERE IS THE EQUALITY OF JUSTICE?

This is something that everyone should be concerned about. In my line of work, I've seen rapists get shorter sentences.

If nothing else, this presents a brilliant opportunity to campaign against drug free zones, which have had virtually no effect on public health or safety, according to the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Instead, the think tank found, drug free zones disproportionately target minorities, who serve inflated sentences because of this Reagan-era insanity.

But the greater trouble here is the silent cry of Lady Justice being smothered for Mr. Wooten. His sentence is so stunningly, terrifyingly unjust, if drug reform advocates do not fly into an uproar over this case, I may just give up all hope of seeing this drug war problem rectified in my lifetime.

John Lennon thought Sinclair's 10 for two was bad. I cannot imagine what he'd sing about this.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact