Sept. 9

(2008-389350) 12:46 p.m.: A man was carrying around 52 grams of herb when the cops pulled over the car he was in. Naturally, he went to jail.

Speaking of pot, this case offers a nice segue to a conversation I'd been hoping to have for a while. For the last couple of weeks, as I've trudged through the monotony of home invasions and copper wire thefts, I've become convinced that this column is missing one important ingredient on its way to superstardom: my opinion. Because for all the humor in traffic stops and armed robbers, I know — I know — you're dying to know what I really think.

Oh, you're not? Well, I have a column and you don't.

So here's the inaugural (and perhaps exaugural) Police Beat Rant o' the Week: Florida's marijuana laws are idiotic. Yeah, I'm sure pot laws all over the country are idiotic, but I live here. And no, I'm not worried about the cops raiding my apartment and finding a grow room or anything like that. So there's no sense even coming by, officers, OK? Really, nothing to see here. Honest.

I just think this whole debate needs to move into the realm of common sense.

Take this 26-year-old gentleman, who spent much of a Tuesday in a holding cell. Is it a bright idea to carry weed with you when you travel? Probably not, but that's not the point. Under Florida law, this guy faces a potential felony charge and up to five years in jail. That's because, in this state, anything above 20 grams conveys intent to sell.

Let's inject some reality here. Fifty-two grams works out to just under 12 percent of a pound — an eighth, as it's known. Usually when pot is sold in eighths, it's quality shit. Pricewise, you're looking at about $50, maybe more, maybe less, depending on whether you're blazing some real-deal funk or garden-variety cryppie. Or so my sources tell me.

But the law doesn't differentiate between the best bud in the world and the worst dirt schwag you score at a trailer park on the Trail. In the eyes of the law, pot is pot, no matter its THC content. Let's assume that our arrestee in this case had ditch weed, one step up from oregano. He would have paid maybe $15 for it. That's the pot equivalent of buying a case of cheap beer. Between a few friends, it lasts a night.

In other words, he ain't selling it. Even if it's good dope, that's a casual buying quantity, nothing more. But the state treats him like a full-on dealer. According to the state's drug law — thanks to a handy chart from Florida NORML — the state doesn't differentiate between 20 grams and 20 pounds.

You read that right. Selling (or possessing) 25 pounds lands you up to five years. But 20 pounds? Five years maximum — the same as our guy with an eighth, at least in theory. Of course, these are maximum penalties, and in practice the punishments are assuredly much more proportional. Still, the idea that 20 grams, which is a negligable amount of weed under any circumstance, is the line of demarcation between a misdemeanor and a felony … that's just bizarre.

This discussion isn't even touching on the larger issue: Why is marijuana illegal in the first place? That's rhetorical; I know the answer: racism. In the 1920s and 1930s, marijuana became associated with two groups: African-American jazz musicians and Mexican farmworkers in the Southwest. Not long after that, it was made illegal — over the objections of the American Medical Association — following a hysterical, racially tinged propaganda campaign from the newly minted Federal Bureau of Narcotics that painted pot users as uncontrollable sexual deviants (read: crazed black men will come after your white women). Incidentally, this happened under an utterly oblivious Congress.

Asked about the proposed ban, then-Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn replied, "I don't know. It has something to do with a thing called marijuana. I think it is a narcotic of some kind."

Well, looks like I'm out of space and a bit far afield. Next time, we'll get back to our usual criminal chicanery, I promise. But I think it does all of us well to step back and see the big picture, and see why some of these government strictures on private behavior that we all take for granted are rooted in ignorance, stupidity and, yes, racism.


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