UPDATE: Police Targeted Wrong Man in Deadly Las Vegas Raid

Last month, we wrote about the tragic slaying of Trevon Cole, a 21-year-old father-to-be who was shot and killed by a police officer in front of his pregnant fiancé during a raid on their Las Vegas home.

At the time, police claimed they had evidence that Cole was a marijuana dealer; undercover officers had reportedly purchased marijuana from him on three separate occasions and allegedly took an unknown amount from his home during the raid.

Cole’s fiancé said at the time that Trevon smoked marijuana occasionally but was not a drug dealer, and police were slow to answer questions about the validity of the raid itself, let alone the tactics used.

Now we know why: They raided the wrong Trevon Cole.

Read the details here in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

While police contended they were going after a major drug dealer, they in fact purchased only 1.8 ounces for $840 from Cole over five weeks. This was apparently the only confirmation police needed to raid the couple’s home with guns drawn. And the disproportionate and needless tactics that were employed ultimately claimed another innocent life in the government’s unjustified war on marijuana.

The family has not yet filed a lawsuit against the police department, and is waiting for the results from Cole’s autopsy, according to their lawyer.

Stay tuned to the blog for updates.

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Las Vegas Police Kill 21-Year-Old Father-to-Be While Serving Marijuana Warrant

In a shocking series of events that is still under investigation, Las Vegas police on Friday shot and killed Trevon Cole, 21, while serving a warrant that claimed Cole was selling marijuana. According to reports, Cole’s 20-year-old fiancé, Sequioa Pearce—who is 9 months pregnant—was forced to kneel and held at gunpoint in the moments just before Cole was shot.

A police spokesman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that undercover officers had bought marijuana from Cole three times before the warrant was served, and investigators reportedly took an unknown amount of marijuana and digital scales from his home. Pearce, his fiancé, says Cole, who has no criminal record, “did smoke marijuana from time to time,” but was not a drug dealer.

The officer who shot Cole is a 10-year veteran who the Review-Journal reports has been involved in other questionable shootings. Police said he fired his weapon on Cole after Cole made a “furtive movement,” which Pearce denies.

While police investigate the incident, Cole’s family remains shocked and in desperate need of an explanation. Writes the Review-Journal, “They had been preparing for a birth, not a death.”

"We were mentally prepped to know in June we were coming to Vegas to see the baby, to be here for the birth of the baby," said Cole's aunt, Kimeryn Williams. "Not for this."

I don’t need to tell readers how horrifying this episode is. As with other notorious drug raids that have come to light, there are obvious questions here that need asking:

• Did Cole pose such a threat to public safety that officers had to break through his door with guns drawn?

• Why were such forceful tactics used to arrest someone that police claim—at the very best—was a smalltime marijuana dealer?

• How much money and police resources were spent to raid Cole’s home and murder him in front of the mother of his unborn child?

• Were there no murders, rapes, robberies or more serious crimes occurring in Vegas on a Friday night that these officers could have been working to prevent or solve?

The message people need to take from this stomach-turning incident is the one MPP broadcasts over and over again: Marijuana does not kill people, but prohibition does. If marijuana were sold in a legal and regulated market, tragedies like this would cease to exist and police could better spend their time dealing with crimes more serious than the possession of a substance safer than alcohol.

There should be many developments on this story, so please stay tuned to the blog for updates.

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Medical Marijuana

UPDATE: Court Orders Bail for New Jersey’s John Wilson

Apr 27, 2010 Kate Zawidzki

John Wilson, MS, multiple sclerosis, New Jersey, victim

The multiple sclerosis patient in New Jersey who was sentenced to five years in prison for growing marijuana plants and has been incarcerated since March may be released today while he appeals his case.

A state appellate court ruled yesterday that John Wilson, who says he used marijuana to treat his condition, should be released on bail.


“Family and supporters were optimistic, but pointed out that John spent three weeks in the Somerset County Jail, then a week in a Trenton [transfer] facility and had just been moved to a state prison complex in southern New Jersey. Some were growing concerned over his health.”

Two state senators have asked New Jersey’s governor to pardon Wilson, in part because the state passed a medical marijuana law during the course of his trial.

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Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Activist Fights to Get Her Son Back

Apr 14, 2010 Kate Zawidzki

activist, Calgary, Canada, Lisa Kirkman, Oregon, victim

Lisa Kirkman has spent the last two years trying to regain custody of her 12-year-old son, Noah, and have him returned to their home in Calgary, Canada. Her dilemma, according to the Calgary Sun, is “on the verge of becoming an international incident.”

The saga stems from a 2008 trip Noah made to his visit his stepfather in Oregon. Noah, who reportedly suffers from several mental health issues, was stopped by police for riding a bike without a helmet, and through a still unclear chain of events and red tape, ended up being placed in a series of American foster homes.

Here’s the kicker: The reason authorities have been hesitant to give Noah back to his mother is because of her history with marijuana activism and a 2003 conviction for growing medical marijuana without a permit.

“As a result,” the Calgary Sun reports, “the court has forced her to undergo psychiatric evaluations, and parenting tests. Most telling of all, the court says she must swear off drugs before Noah can come home.”

This Friday, a judge in Oregon will decide if Noah can go back to his mother. Canadian MP Rob Anders has said he is ready to travel down to the States and bring Noah home, depending on the ruling.

Oregon, which passed medical marijuana through a ballot measure in 1998, recognizes the rights of patients to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. From all reports, Lisa Kirkman is a legal patient in Canada—her conviction is for growing her medicine without a permit. So why would they make her “swear off” a medicine recognized by both her native country and the state in which her son is being held? Furthermore, how can a judge deprive a mother custody of her son for being politically active on any issue? It wasn’t like she was exploiting her son by making him wear protest gear, which the last time I checked isn’t illegal in the U.S. either.

Lisa Kirkman is being interviewed on CNN later this afternoon. Hopefully they can bring her back Friday when she gets to experience a long overdue reunion with her son.

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Medical Marijuana

New Jersey MS Patient Will Remain Jailed During Appeal

Apr 13, 2010 Kate Zawidzki

John Wilson, multiple sclerosis, New Jersey, victim

The New Jersey man who was sentenced to five years in prison last month for growing marijuana plants to treat his multiple sclerosis will now remain jailed while he appeals his conviction.

John Wilson has maintained that he grew marijuana for personal use only to treat his illness. Throughout most of his trial, a judge prevented Wilson from mentioning his condition, even after New Jersey became the 14th state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana law. On Friday, that same judge—State Superior Court Judge Robert Reed—ruled that Wilson cannot go free on bail until his appeal is decided.

Two state senators are asking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to pardon Wilson, calling the decision to bring charges against the 37-year-old “cruel, unusual and unnecessary.”

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Supreme Court Arguments Expose Plight of Immigrants Deported Over Minor Marijuana Convictions

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases that questioned a harsh federal law requiring the deportation of non-citizens who are convicted of certain crimes, including minor drug violations.

Media reports on those whose lives hang in the balance over these decisions have included one horror story after another about people who in many cases were legal residents of the United States for decades, but were forced to endure brutal treatment and threats of deportation, simply for minor marijuana convictions.

Among the most egregious:

  • Jerry Lemaine, a legal permanent resident of New York who was instructed by a lawyer to plead guilty after a police officer found a marijuana cigarette in his pocket one night in 2007. That guilty plea led to a terrible chain reaction, as reported by The New York Times: “Immigration authorities flew him in shackles to Texas, where he spent three years behind bars, including 10 months in solitary confinement, as he fought deportation to Haiti, the country he had left at age 3,” The Times reported yesterday.
  • Jose Padilla, a native of Honduras who followed his lawyer’s advice to plead guilty to transporting marijuana. Federal agents told Padilla, a Vietnam veteran who has lived in Kentucky for many years, that he faced automatic deportation as soon as he pled guilty.

In the case of Padilla, the court ruled 7-2 today that lawyers must inform their clients about the consequences any case would have on their immigration status.

No opinion was given on the justness of punishing someone for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.

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Medical Marijuana

MS Patient Sentenced to Five Years in Prison For Growing Marijuana

Mar 22, 2010 Kate Zawidzki

grow, John Wilson, MS, multiple sclerosis, New Jersey, victim

New Jersey resident John Wilson, 37, may spend the next five years in prison because he grew marijuana, which he used to treat his multiple sclerosis. A judge handed down the five-year sentence on Friday, months after a jury found Wilson guilty of growing 17 marijuana plants—which he used only to treat the effects of his debilitating illness.

Throughout most of his trial, Wilson was prevented from mentioning his disease to the jury. Then in January, New Jersey became the 14th state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana law, but Wilson was still not allowed to argue a medical defense, because the law did not exist at the time of his arrest. New Jersey’s law does not allow patients to grow their own marijuana (as Wilson had done) but it will provide them with safe access to their medicine through dispensaries—which would have eliminated the need for Wilson to grow his own plants, if only the law had been passed two years earlier.

There is a chance that Wilson might receive parole and be out of prison in about a year, if he is accepted into the state’s Intensive Supervision Program, but that has not yet been decided.

In the meantime, his attorney, James Wronko, is promising to appeal.

“I continue to be amazed that in our system of justice, an individual who is growing marijuana to treat his personal multiple sclerosis ends up in state prison,” Wronko told a local news outlet. “I find it extremely ironic that an individual who could not afford medicine and had to resort to growing marijuana is now going to state prison where he will be given access to all the drugs available to treat multiple sclerosis.”

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Medical Marijuana

Call For Wal-Mart Boycott Yields Small Victory

Mar 17, 2010 Kate Zawidzki

boycott, Casias, Michigan, victim, Wal-Mart

One day after MPP called for a nationwide boycott of Wal-Mart stores in order to protest the company’s contemptible and baseless firing of Michigan medical marijuana patient Joe Casias, the world’s largest public corporation is already changing its position — albeit not to the extent we all desire.

A Wal-Mart spokesperson has told Fox News that the company is no longer challenging Casias’s eligibility for unemployment, reversing the despicable stance it took before news of the firing made national headlines.

While this change falls far short of the treatment Joe deserves after dedicating the last five years of his life to being a model employee for Wal-Mart, it’s at least a sign that Wal-Mart is feeling the heat from mounting criticism in a country that supports medical marijuana laws by more than 80%.

So let’s keep up the pressure! Allowing Casias to collect unemployment still doesn’t change Wal-Mart’s discriminatory policy of firing medical marijuana patients who are following state law and a doctor’s recommendation.

To learn how to e-mail Wal-Mart’s CEO to say you stand in solidarity with Casias and want Wal-Mart’s policy to change, click here.

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Medical Marijuana

Wal-Mart Fires Cancer Patient for Legally Using Medical Marijuana

Mar 12, 2010 Kate Zawidzki

firing, Michigan, victim, Walmart

Joseph Casias, 29, has sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.

Despite his condition, he has dutifully gone to work every day for the last five years at a Wal-Mart in Battle Creek, Michigan, where in 2008 he was named Associate of the Year.

Casias is also a legal medical marijuana patient under Michigan state law. He uses marijuana with the recommendation of his doctor to relieve the effects of cancer.

But Wal-Mart, the world’s largest public corporation, has no sympathy for his condition or regard for Michigan’s state law. Last November, Wal-Mart fired Casias because he tested positive for marijuana during a routine drug screening.

Here’s what a Wal-Mart spokesman had to say:

“In states, such as Michigan, where prescriptions for marijuana can be obtained, an employer can still enforce a policy that requires termination of employment following a positive drug screen. We believe our policy complies with the law and we support decisions based on the policy.”

To add insult to injury, Wal-Mart is now challenging Casias’ eligibility for unemployment. Simply outrageous. This is the thanks he gets for showing up to work and doing his job for the last five years, despite being stricken with a potentially life-threatening illness. “I gave them everything,” Casias told a local news outlet. “One-hundred-ten percent every day. Anything they asked me to do I did. More than they asked me to do. Twelve to 14 hours a day.”

Sadly, the dilemma facing medical marijuana patients who still have no legal protection from being fired is nothing new.

Readers who would like to register a complaint with Wal-Mart can find corporate contact information here.

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Ohio Man Commits Suicide After Marijuana Charge

Feb 24, 2010 Kate Zawidzki

Ohio, Robert W. Batsch, suicide, victim

The latest tragic victim of marijuana prohibition is Robert W. Batsch, a 55-year-old husband and father.

Hours after he and his wife were charged with felony child endangerment yesterday for allegedly growing marijuana in their family’s home, Batsch shot himself in the chest with a .22 caliber rifle.

If found guilty, Batsch—and his wife—each faced one to five years in prison.

To find out how you can help MPP put a stop to horrific stories like these, please click here.

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