For anyone needing a reminder of the absurdities of the US judicial system when it comes to drug laws, here’s a particularly insane story out of Texas.
Jacob Lavorno, a 19-year-old from the Austin area with a clean rap sheet — until now, anyway — is facing up to life in prison for allegedly doing what countless people worldwide do all the time: baking pot brownies.
'This is yet another example of how the War on Drugs is not based in reality.'
In Texas, that’s normally considered a misdemeanor — but Lavorno allegedly had the idea of using hashish oil — which contains a higher concentration of THC than marijuana — to bake the brownies, which he is accused of making and selling. This added ingredient turned his offense into a first-degree felony comparable to murder.
Travis McDonald, the Williamson County prosecutor, said that the sentencing range is five to 99 years, or life in prison, the Associated Press reported. This is a harsher punishment than Texas hands out for sexual assault or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, just to put things in perspective.
And because the hashish is baked into the brownies, the entire treat counts as an illegal substance. Which basically means that if you throw sugar, butter, and cocoa powder into the mix you end up with a much heavier quantity of “drugs” — about 1.5 pounds, in Lavorno’s case.
"This is yet another example of how the War on Drugs is not based in reality," Amanda Reiman, a policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group, told VICE News. "Threatening a young person with life in prison for the possession or sale of any substance is in direct conflict with what we know about how to positively influence human development and behavior. Saddling this young man with such a sentence will do nothing to curb drug use or improve the public health and safety of communities. Indeed, all it will do is prevent this young man from pursuing a successful life in light of the harsh collateral sanctions associated with drug convictions."
If not his freedom, Lavorno stands to lose his chances at education, employment, housing, and health care, she added.
'It’s outrageous. It’s crazy. I don’t understand it. Five years to life?'
That baking pot brownies should be punished with life in prison is plain insane, the teen’s lawyer — a former cop — pointed out.
“I was outraged. I’ve been doing this 22 years as a lawyer and I’ve got ten years as a police officer, and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Jack Holmes told local reporters. “They’ve weighed baked goods in this case. It ought to be a misdemeanor.” Calls placed to Holmes by VICE News were not immediately returned.
The teen’s dad was also pretty stunned.
“It’s outrageous. It’s crazy. I don’t understand it. Five years to life? I’m sorry. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I’m a conservative. I love my country. I’m a Vietnam veteran, but I’ll be damned. This is damn wrong,” he told local reporters. “If he did something wrong, he should be punished but to the extent that makes sense. This is illogical. I’m really upset, and I’m frightened, I’m frightened for my son.”
'Our prolonged War on Drugs has left this country with a legacy of thousands of nonviolent offenders serving sentences that may very well mean death behind prison walls.'
And while the young Lavorno might get away without spending the rest of his life in jail regretting making those brownies, he wouldn’t be the first one to face the full brunt of our ridiculous drug laws.
At least 25 people have been condemned to life in jail for non-violent drug offenses, according to advocacy group The Human Solution. Another group, Life for Pot and Release Non-Violent Drug Offenders, has joined the ACLU and others in a growing chorus demanding a mass pardon of non-violent drug offenders.
"Our prolonged War on Drugs has left this country with a legacy of thousands of nonviolent offenders serving sentences that may very well mean death behind prison walls," the group said in an open letter. "At the present time, the legal status of marijuana is being challenged state by state. The cruel irony is that every year there are 700,000 to 800,000 local, state, and federal arrests for marijuana that most of the population sees as no more harmful than alcohol. This is evidenced by the fact that marijuana is now being legalized across the country state by state at a staggering rate."
The logic of legalization, some hope, will eventually win over the insanity of punishments like the one faced by Lavorno.
"How can anyone in their right mind say that the punishment fits the crime?" Reiman said. "As more states move towards rational regulations for marijuana, cases like these will seem increasingly harsh, unwarranted, and inhumanely severe."
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi
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