PHOTOS: Joe Leggett Photography
Many people seem to believe that recent cultural shifts and policy changes supporting state’s rights and the rights of medical marijuana and recreational cannabis users mean that prohibition is over.
Especially in states that do not recognize medical marijuana, people with serious medical conditions are being victimized and made into criminals for trying to help themselves.
Just ask Danielle Wilson of Alabama about her two-and-a-half year ordeal with the justice system. On Wednesday, June 15th, 2011, Danielle Wilson was at home in Summerdale, Alabama. Her husband, Jason Patrick Wilson, was at work as he typically was during the day. When Danielle heard a knock at the door, she didn’t think anything of it. Their home was located at the beginning of a cul-de-sac in the first test area of a new subdivision, and they often got visitors just looking for directions.
The plainclothes pair at the front door looked like just another lost couple. Danielle opened the door to offer them help. They didn’t identify themselves as police officers. When she ducked back inside for a moment, she pushed the door shut behind her. Unfortunately, one of the officers decided it wasn’t closed enough. When she turned back around, they had let themselves inside.
Danielle uses cannabis regularly. She has several conditions that respond well to cannabis treatment, most markedly and significantly, fibromyalgia. She also suffers from knee and back pain, migraines, and anxiety and insomnia, which have only gotten worse throughout this ordeal. Like all too many American cannabis consumers, she does not live in a state that recognizes the medical benefits of her medication of choice. Alabama does not protect people like Danielle from arrest or prosecution.
So it was, two-and-a-half years ago, that Danielle found herself cuffed and detained in her living room by two police officers who had failed to identify themselves and who did not mirandize her after arresting her. She sat in cuffs for four hours, waiting for the police to obtain a warrant they didn’t have when they came knocking.
That warrant, when it finally came in, allowed the local law enforcement to search the home. The police tore the home apart, looking for something they knew wasn’t dangerous. They found seven plants, which Danielle Wilson asserts were still in the process of vegetative growth, and three baby clones. Simply put, none of the plants had cannabis flower or bud ready for harvest. A local news report featured images of cannabis plants that are clearly immature and have no psychoactive cannabis flower ready for harvest. That didn’t stop law enforcement from weighing the (still wet) plants and asserting that their full weight, five pounds, be used in the charges brought against the Wilsons.
The complete absence of common sense and science in the evidence-gathering process ensured that the Wilsons would face a ridiculously harsh sentence: specifically, they are charged with drug trafficking. Danielle was also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia thanks to the pipe the police found, as well as possession of a controlled substance. Jason was charged with drug trafficking and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Neither of them had any criminal record prior to their cannabis-related legal issues. Despite that fact and the fact that both of them have both completed rehab and been subject to random drug tests for the last two years (2-3 times a month) and neither has ever failed a test, the courts are throwing everything they have at the Wilsons. Because of Alabama’s harsh sentencing guidelines, Danielle and Jason are both facing minimum sentences of fifteen years in prison. They were both held in custody for some time after they were arrested because these alleged non-violent cannabis offenders had their individual bonds set at $1,000,000.00. Eventually, that was lowered, and after well over a month in jail, the pair was able to return home. They were released on $50,000.00 bond each on July 29th, 2011.
Of course, getting out on bond wasn’t the end; it was just a change in setting for the nightmare their lives had become. In no short order, unemployed (and unemployable, facing serious drug charges), Jason and Danielle had gone from home-owning, tax-paying, job-holding citizens to terrified, indebted people accused of a victimless crime. Their story was reported in conjunction with stories about cocaine and methamphetamine traffickers, resulting in a lot of local confusion about the nature of their controlled substances charges (a major stigma in small town Alabama).
There are many issues with this case, not the least of which is the delay of their trial and the lackluster processing of evidence. However, the most shocking and egregious violation of basic human rights is Danielle’s personal story of her early days in jail.
After being arrested, Danielle began presenting symptoms which concerned her. She asked the female guard to be able to take a pregnancy test. She had to ask repeatedly to have the request taken seriously. Finally, after waiting in terrible tension for hours, she was allowed to use a simple urine pregnancy test. After she took it, the female guard attending to her spirited away the test and refused to allow Danielle to see the results. The cop reported the results as negative, both in her report and to Danielle verbally. However, Danielle was, in fact, pregnant, as later tests (and the eventual birth of her daughter) would confirm.
The chilling reality is that prisoners, especially drug prisoners, have absolutely no basic rights in this country. Anyone with a shred of human decency, even males and other incapable of child birth, can sympathize with a young woman’s terror and anxiety when she doesn’t know if she is pregnant. To deny a person – especially one only accused of a crime (innocent until proven guilty, after all) – the peace of mind that comes with seeing their own test results is unnecessarily cruel. Beyond that, the guard’s behavior raises the suspicion of the very real possibility that Danielle’s pregnancy was intentionally misreported and ignored as a means to further punish this young woman.
Neither Danielle nor Jason have been offered anything resembling a reasonable plea deal. Instead, they are left in limbo while trial and court dates are scheduled, pushed back, canceled, and rescheduled. They are subject to regular drug screenings, and have to work strange shifts doing physical labor to ensure there is still income for their family to survive on for the next few days.
Without reconsideration of the evidence, the minimum charge for the trafficking offense the pair faces will be fifteen years each. The Wilsons are confident that with a professional, scientific analysis, the weight of the cannabis would fall well before the 2.2 pound cutoff for a simple possession charge, which carries no minimum sentence.
Danielle’s trial was scheduled to begin on November 12th, 2013, but it was postponed yet again, leaving her and her husband in the most torturous of legal limbos.
You can help Danielle, Jason, and their lovely daughter Skye by donating to their fund. They are attempting to raise several thousand dollars in order to pay the fee for an independent consultant to re-analyze the evidence gathered by law enforcement and establish how egregious and inappropriate the charges brought against the couple truly are.