Prohibition and Paraphernalia in Utah

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IMAGE: Scott Davidson, Creative Commons

Once upon a time, in Utah…

This is, unfortunately, not a fairy tale, but the story of a real Utah mom who is currently experiencing the appalling treatment from some of West Valley City’s finest.

Picture this – an expectant wife and mother, riding in a car. That car is pulled over for a minor infraction. Everyone in the car is searched, including the subject of our story, Mrs. “A”, who happens to be a medical marijuana patient living in a non-legal state. She has utilized cannabis for severe depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder for years, choosing it rather than potentially deadly pharmaceuticals, as she knows, understands, and appreciates the benefits of an all-natural herb for her conditions and her unborn child.

This is a woman who has had the fortitude to advocate for cannabis legalization, reaching far beyond what her perceived limitations were to perform public outreach, attend activist meetings, and educate the public about the true benefits of cannabis.

What do the police find when they search her? Not a pound of weed. Not an ounce or even a single bud. They find a pipe. It is not a meth pipe. It is not a crack pipe. It’s not even a tobacco pipe (all of which are known killer substances). Rather, she happens to have a small pipe with some cannabis residue.

She explains to the officer that she utilizes cannabis to manage her symptoms, including those of her pregnancy. The explanation goes unheeded and she is ticketed (and almost arrested) for paraphernalia. This particular state (Utah) finds no difference between types of pipes, so a pipe with marijuana residue is as illegal as a crack or meth pipe. However, the state has no issue with retail stores throughout the state selling every conceivable type of “paraphernalia”, as long as they get their fair share of taxes.

The laws in her state of Utah are archaic, to say the least, as she is facing a possible sentence (as a first time “offender”) of six months of incarceration. She is ultimately charged with a class “B” misdemeanor and ordered to appear before a judge. The court imposes a sentence (after a brief meeting with a rather inept public defender) of 8 weeks of urinary analysis at a cost of $15 for every week, and a fine of $500. The state of Utah is also charging Mrs. “A” for her fingerprints, which appears to be a newer development for the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI).

Affording these fines creates a catch-22 as Mrs. “A” is disabled due to her psychiatric conditions, on disability, and completely unable to afford them (reiterating the reason she utilizes cannabis in the first place – to treat her symptoms).

Perhaps the only upside of this story is that she was not shot in the back of the head and murdered, like Danielle Willard, by members of the West Valley police force.

Rather than chasing after non-incidental occurrences, it simply makes sense for officers of the West Valley Police Department (and every other law enforcement agency throughout the nation) to focus on real crimes such as homicides and rapes rather than wasting time, money, and resources on a medicine an adult chooses to use.

This is just one example of laws which are unjust and unreasonable and must be changed. Wasting time, money and police resources for a medicine is beyond ridiculous.