In 1969, a Gallup poll revealed that only 12 percent of Americans were in favor of the legalization of marijuana. A few days ago, a new poll by the same agency showed just how far Americans have come since then, as a staggering 60% of respondents said “Yes” to legalizing cannabis.
But policy does not always follow the will of the people, and today, in the majority of US states, people are still being convicted for possession of a substance that is perfectly legal across several jurisdictions. Recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and DC.
On election day, voters will decide if they want to follow suit in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.
In New Jersey, if you are caught in possession of marijuana that has not been prescribed by a physician (or with the wrong amount), you might end up being incarcerated. That is what happened to Jawara McIntosh, the son of the late reggae legend Peter Tosh.
According to New Jersey laws, he might have been sent to prison for a minimum 10-20 years on charges of possession with intent to distribute.
McIntosh was pulled over by police after alleged traffic violations, the cop then searched his car including the trunk and the cannabis was found. Bail was set at $200,000 and after several months behind bars in the local county jail, McIntosh was able to make bail and was temporarily released. He went through several attorneys but, as the case approached going to a jury trial, I was brought into the case.
I am glad that they decided to contact me seeking legal representation because I believe this case is emblematic of what is going on in our country with cannabis laws.
It is emblematic because McIntosh is the son of a beloved musician who fought passionately for the legalization of marijuana, for which his song, “Legalize it,” became an anthem of the movement.
Now that that has become a reality in many parts of America, one of the spiritual heirs of a man who was a symbol of legalization had to face a possible prison sentence for doing something that is hardly considered a crime just across state lines.
It is ironic that an activist like McIntosh, who has continued in his father's work to advocate for the legalization of cannabis, should be in such a legal conundrum. Though I inherited the case from a string of other attorneys and thus was not able to build the case from the ground up how I normally do, I am proud to say that I was able to strike a deal with the prosecution that will keep my client out of prison.
Under the conditions of the agreement, McIntosh will be released after having to serve another six months in county jail and, hopefully, I can have him out even earlier on home arrest.
There was a weird irony the day I had to advise Jawara that, though we both didn't like it, because of the laws of New Jersey, it was most likely in his best interest to accept the plea bargain and have to go back to jail for some time as I looked at the freakishly unnaturally muscular officer who had made the arrest and couldn't help but think about that in 2010, it came to light that a doctor had been illegally prescribing steroids to hundreds of police officers and firefighters across New Jersey.
But nobody was searching for that officer or asking him to test for anabolic steroids.
I believe cases like this have to make us think about marijuana laws across America, and why the demonizing of pot in certain jurisdictions does the fight against dangerous drugs a disservice. All over the country, courts and law enforcement are still dedicating a significant amount of resources to prosecuting individuals for possession of a substance that one scientific study after another has declared harmless, and in many cases beneficial for human health.
Activists like McIntosh shouldn't risk doing jail time. They shouldn't undergo the humiliation of an arrest. If anything, this case has shown us that the law needs to get up to speed with public opinion and that 60% of Americans who have expressed their wish that marijuana be legalized, finally need to be heard.