Jonathan Wall (26-year-old cannabis entrepreneur) has been held in Maryland’s federal supermax facility for almost 20 months. He is awaiting his May 2 trial, which could see him sentenced to life imprisonment. Wall, a 26-year-old cannabis entrepreneur, is charged with transporting more that 1,000 kilograms marijuana from California where it is legal to recreationally use. He is being held at a federal supermax facility in Maryland while awaiting a May 2 trial.
Wall’s case illustrates the draconian penalties that can still be imposed on people for selling pot at a time when most states have legalized marijuana businesses. All of these businesses, according to the federal government, are considered criminal enterprises. However, depending on the way federal prosecutors exercise their discretion, you could make millions as a state-licensed seller of pot, or you can be sent to prison for many decades.
Federal law provides that distributing more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana can result in a minimum 10 year sentence and a life sentence. Maryland’s law also punishes illegal marijuana sales severely: “Drug kingpin,” meaning an organizer, supervisor or financier in a case involving at least 50 pounds of marijuana, can be sentenced to a maximum 20 year imprisonment and not more than 40 years without the possibility for parole. California’s state-licensed recreational sale is legal. Selling marijuana without a license, however, can lead to up to six months jail.
Wall wrote in an abridged version of this sentence: “I understand what you are thinking.” Truthout essay published last August. How is it possible that selling marijuana can be punished so severely, particularly in these days of widespread decriminalization, and recreational or medicinal cannabis legalized in most states and territories in this country? This is a great question.
There are 37 states that have approved medical marijuana. More than half the country also allows recreational use. Two-thirds believe marijuana should be legalized. However, the federal government still considers it a Schedule I drug. This is a classification that is supposedly for drugs with a high risk of abuse and can’t be safely used even when under medical supervision.
Biden, President, has stated that he would like to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug. However, his administration has not yet initiated the process. That would, in all likelihood, not change Wall’s criminal punishments. Biden opposed repealing federal prohibitions on marijuana. It seems contradictory to his view that states should be able to legalize pot without federal intervention.
Biden also promised that he would “broadly use his clemency power” to commute the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders and specifically said that anyone who had been convicted of marijuana offenses “should be let out of jail.” But so far he has not used his clemency power at all. Wall’s case is a clear example of his administration trying to keep more people in prison for violating pot prohibition.
“Who will end up being the last marijuana user in America?” Wall supporters published a headline-length ad in which they asked, “Who will be the last person incarcerated for marijuana in the United States?” The Washington Post last September. Even if the Senate voted with the House to repeal federal prohibitions, it does not mean that people will no longer be “incarcerated” for using marijuana.
First, the states will be allowed to legalize marijuana. Second, many states still consider selling and cultivation serious crimes that deserve harsh punishments. Texas is home to a law that makes it felony for any sale exceeding 7g (or about a quarter of an inch) A minimum penalty of 6 months applies to sales of 5 pounds or more. The maximum sentence is 2 to 20 years for five to fifty pounds and 5 to 99 for 50-2,000 pounds. For over 2,000, the penalties are 10 to 99 and for more than 2000 pounds.
Federal legalization could also include criminal sanctions for those who fail to comply with regulatory and tax provisions. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE), which was approved by the House on April 1, allows producers to be sentenced to up to 2 years imprisonment and a $5,000 penalty. For suppliers of marijuana, the maximum punishment is 5 years and a $10,000 fee.
These penalties, while they may not seem as severe as the Wall-like punishment, are still more severe than those Congress approved for violators of the Volstead Act. This Act implemented federal alcohol prohibition following passage of the 18th Amendment. A first offense for manufacturing or selling alcohol could result in up to six months imprisonment under the Volstead Act. OderA fine up to $1,000 is possible (about $16,600 in today’s dollars). Maximums of $1,000 were raised to $56,600 today. OderFor each subsequent offense, a $2,000 penalty will be assessed.
These penalties seem pretty light by today’s standards for the war against drugs. However, judges are often reluctant to convict people for violating state laws or the Volstead Act. Daniel Okrent writes in New York, “In New York,” Last Call: Prohibition’s Rise and Fall“The first four thousand Mullan-Gage arrests [the state’s version of the Volstead Act]The result was less than 5100 indictments. This led to just six convictions but not one sentence in jail.
Wall seems to be more suitable for jury nullification because the punishments he faces are more severe and his drug of choice is not as hazardous as alcohol. The ban that he was charged with violating is also unlike alcohol prohibition. Although defendants that have broken the law are generally not permitted to request an acquittal for the sake of justice, jurors will notice that Wall is being held in prison by the Justice Department for activities that are legal throughout much of the country.
Wall’s Denver-based lawyer Jason Flores Williams spends part of his time helping cannabis investors. Jonathan told him that he is in a place where he can talk to him on the phone. Insider, “and the next phone call is from somebody in Nevada who is looking to invest $1.5 million into a cannabis corporation based here in Colorado that is expanding into Mexico….These are the exact same activities.”
Flores Williams doesn’t see the point in that distinction. He said, “Right now we have this profound inconsistency country.” I go to Maryland court, then 40 miles away you can find a warehouse measuring 72,000 square feet that has been rented for 20 years. It was converted into a marijuana grow facility and rented to tenants.
Flores Williams claimed that Wall’s charges should be dropped because of equal protection. “The ability of a citizen to participate in the American market is not dependent on his or her talent. [on]He wrote that he was not only impressed by his work ethic but also the preference of the local prosecutor. If you own dispensaries in LA, you can be a businessperson. Maryland is where you should be.
Flores Williams pointed out that, “there are many people in this country right now involved in the manufacturing, distribution, or possession of marijuana, but they are not being prosecuted.” He said that depending on their location, some citizens could be prosecuted. [are]Other citizens cannot enjoy the same economic liberty as them, which is in violation of equal protection law.
Flores Williams tells me that U.S. District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher denied the argument on the bench last May without providing much legal reasoning. Flores Williams’s double standard should be troubling for jurors hearing Wall’s case. Flores Williams says that although it is not obvious how much he can talk about the disparate treatment of cannabis suppliers since Wall’s charges will be based on that, but that prosecutors will claim that this will not affect Wall’s case, Flores Williams states that “we are going to fight like madmen” in order to prove that point.
Wall points out that John Boehner (the former House Speaker from Ohio), was a Republican who supported marijuana prohibition in Congress and is currently “sitting on Acreage Holdings’ board. Acreage Holdings is one of the most publicly traded cannabis companies worldwide.” Wall was highlighted in the ad that called attention to his case. It stated that marijuana corporations in Maryland and elsewhere are making billions of dollars growing, manufacturing, and selling pot. Celebrities like Jay-Z and Willie Nelson have their own cannabis brands. Beyonce said that she was starting a cannabis farm while Jonathan Wall is facing life imprisonment. This isn’t how the law works.