In a bizarre case of history repeating itself, another celebrity has been arrested in the Texas border town of Sierra Blanca. Sitting just 10 miles from the Mexico border, Sierra Blanca has an interstate running through it that has become quite a lucrative source of cash and publicity for the local sheriff. In the past several years, Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg (I mean, Snoop Lion), and hacker George Hotz have all been stopped at the same check point and either cited or arrested for marijuana possession.
Now Fiona Apple has joined the club, and it is no laughing matter. Apple was caught with a small amount of marijuana and hash, but it is more serious than it seems. In Texas, possession of any amount of hash is treated as a felony. The amount Apple supposedly had on her bus is punishable by at least two years in prison, and up to 10!
Texas law punishes hash and other marijuana concentrates much more severely than simple marijuana, even though they are essentially the exact same thing aside from the potency. Anything under four grams gets you the penalty Apple is facing, but anything over that can get you 20 years in prison, and over 400 grams can put you behind bars for 99 years.
Texas is one of the few states that make this dubious distinction, but it isn’t the worst. Last April, Oklahoma passed a law making manufacture of hash punishable by a life sentence.
We’ll keep you updated, but it looks like this talented singer could be doing serious time for merely traveling through the wrong town carrying a substance that is safer than alcohol.
Note to celebrities or anyone traveling in a fancy tour bus: STAY AWAY FROM SIERRA BLANCA.
During the 2012 CMT Music Awards, Willie Nelson, a country music legend and well-known marijuana supporter, performed his song, “Roll Me up,” a marijuana ballad whose refrain is “roll me up and smoke me when I die,” a clear allusion to marijuana. Joining Mr. Nelson in singing verses of the popular song were some of country music's best and brightest: Darius Rucker, Toby Keith, Zac Brown, and Jamey Johnson.
It is refreshing to see mainstream musicians that are thought to cater to a relatively conservative fan base singing in support of marijuana. More than that, by singing “Roll Me Up” in a venue that is seen by so many and considered family-friendly, these artists are removing the stigma from the marijuana discourse. They are not debating the use or legality of the drug; they are simply singing a song about marijuana, taking for granted that the subject matter is perfectly normal and acceptable.
The performance can be seen here:
While understated, this is a very important gesture for the artists, as well as CMT, in regard to how marijuana is viewed in the mainstream. Let's hope that other artists, among all genres and mediums, will follow suit.
Apple, a company with more cash on hand than the U.S. Treasury, couldn’t stop him from jail breaking the iPhone’s iOS software. He cracked Sony’s PlayStation 3 software, at the time thought to be the most secure video game platform available. But George Hotz seems to have met his match in Texas. According to AboveTheLaw.com, Hotz, who has a medical marijuana card from his home state of California, was stopped at the border patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca while on his way to the SXSW conference where he was scheduled to speak. If the location sounds familiar, it’s because it happens to be the same checkpoint where Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg were busted for marijuana possession.
Hotz was arrested for possession of a quarter ounce of marijuana and chocolate edibles containing less than an eighth ounce of marijuana. Rather than being issued a citation and released, as Snoop Dogg was, the local sheriff charged Hotz with a felony, using the weight of the chocolate (rather than the amount of marijuana it contained) as a “correct” indication of how much he possessed.
Who is being served by Texas law enforcement’s focus on arresting individuals for marijuana possession? Certainly not the taxpayers, who end up carrying the financial burden of the misguided war on marijuana users. Last year, Texas cut over $31 billion in spending to close their budget deficit, including cuts to public education, health and human services, and ending financial aid for nearly 60,000 college students. Yet, these senseless arrests and prosecutions continue. Hotz is just the latest victim of the Sierra Blanca checkpoint and of a war that results in 750,000 arrests like this one, with billions of dollars wasted each year.
Eminent rapper and marijuana aficionado Snoop Dogg was arrested over the weekend when officers at a Texas checkpoint searched his tour bus and found a few joints. He was issued a citation and released.
Imagine that, Snoop Dogg has a few joints in his tour bus! That means the town of Sierra Blanca, TX should stop what it is doing and investigate immediately!
It should be noted that this is the same town in which Willie Nelson was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2010.
What is it with this particular town busting celebrities who are famous for proudly using marijuana? Could it be as simple as publicity stunts? Perhaps the local law enforcement really, really doesn’t like marijuana users, and they are intent on picking on the most famous of them. It is not a big jump in logic to assume that marijuana might be found on either of their buses, but does that make them priorities? Another thing I wonder about is how many illicit drug shipments get through that same checkpoint while the other officers are searching for anything they can find that will incriminate the entertainers?
This is just one more example of the folly of our governments’ approaches to marijuana. Taxpayers get to see their hard-earned money being spent to investigate and prosecute famous musicians, as well as more than 750,000 less-than-famous marijuana users every year, while serious crimes go undetected and unpunished right under the noses of law enforcement.
Will putting Snoop Dogg in jail make anyone safer? No. The same goes for any non-violent marijuana user. Yet our society continues to allow the arrests of these individuals at nearly record rates. Unfortunately, most of those people do not have millions of dollars, teams of lawyers, or the power of public sentiment on their sides. They are just statistics in a war that has gone on far too long.
After his recent marijuana arrest, legendary musician Willie Nelson said it was time for an increased political focus on changing our nation's failed marijuana laws. "Tax it, regulate it and legalize it," he said, "and stop the border wars over drugs. Why should the drug lords make all the money? Thousands of lives will be saved."
With that in mind, MPP has teamed up with the folks at Change.org to ask Willie to help the cause in a way that only he can:
[I]f Nelson wants to help end pot prohibition, he can do more than inspire the push for reform -- he can help lead it. And one relatively easy way he can do so is by hosting a benefit concert next year to draw attention to the evils of the drug war, using his iconic pop culture status to raise money for those organizations and people that are working to make the dream of reform a reality. [...]
With marijuana legalization initiatives expected to be on the 2012 ballot in states like Colorado and California, the next year will be crucial in building momentum for reform. And Willie Nelson can help: just as he founded Farm Aid 25 years ago to support struggling farmers in the U.S., he should launch a benefit concert in 2011 aimed at drawing attention to the struggle to end pot prohibition. [Charles Davis/Change.org]
Bragging About Futile Seizures, Invoking God, and Arresting Willie Nelson Does Not Weaken Drug Cartels
Back in May, the Associated Press published the first piece in a groundbreaking series concluding that, after 40 years and more than $1 trillion spent, America’s war on drugs “has failed to meet any of its goals.” Today, as part of the same series, the AP looks specifically at U.S. enforcement strategy toward drug cartels in Mexico, and concludes that even record-level arrests and seizures have failed absolutely to curb the power of the violent gangs that control vast swaths of northern Mexico and make billions by selling drugs, particularly marijuana, to the illicit U.S. market.
Boiled down, it’s a damning indictment of prohibition – and more importantly, the assumption that if we just arrest enough people, and seize enough drugs, then these bloodthirsty, increasingly powerful cartels will somehow just go away.
Citing just one example, a major DEA operation that arrested 761 members of the Sinaloa drug cartel and seized 23 tons of narcotics, the AP quotes acting Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart, as declaring: "Today we have dealt the Sinaloa drug cartel a crushing blow."
But just how crushing was it? An Associated Press investigation casts doubt on whether the crackdown caused any significant setback for the cartel. It still ranks near the top of Mexico's drug gangs, and most of those arrested were underlings who had little connection to the cartel and were swiftly replaced. The cartel leader remains free, along with his top commanders.
The findings confirm what many critics of the drug war have said for years: The government is quick to boast about large arrests or drug seizures, but many of its most-publicized efforts result in little, if any, slowdown in the drug trade.
When confronted by the AP with the fact that the current U.S. enforcement strategy is futile, DEA Deputy Director David Gaddas insisted such tactics work, reportedly arguing, “it’s disruptive for cartels to lose their drivers, their accountants, and their money launderers.”
Yes, but aren't the drugs they seize a fraction of those on the street, and the criminals arrested replaced or released?
Gaddas dropped his head into his hands for a moment, thinking.
"You know, we're doing God's work," he replied.
I never realized that was who told the DEA how to go about its business.
All kidding aside, that’s an unbelievably lame excuse. Hardly a week goes by now without a mainstream media report of the increasing carnage in Mexico, the discovery of yet another elaborate tunnel they cartels have used to smuggle marijuana into the United States, or the political and social tension that Mexican instability and violence are causing along our southern border. If you read the entire AP article, it cites one frustrating example after another.
And the DEA sits there and claims – despite mountains of evidence to the contrary – that its strategy is working.
Thankfully, a major news organization like the AP has now – finally – read the writing on the wall and spelled it out with meticulous detail: current U.S. drug policy does not work. It does not reduce crime, does not reduce use, does not reduce availability, does not weaken major drug traffickers.
So what should we do instead? How else can we strike a blow against these murderous cartel thugs?
Well, according to former Mexico presidents, leading Mexican intellectuals, a sitting U.S. federal judge, a former U.S. border governor, and many others, the single most effective thing the U.S. could do would be to remove marijuana from the criminal market, and tax and regulate it like alcohol. Deny the cartels their most lucrative product, and make border cops spend their time on more worthwhile activities than arresting Willie Nelson.