Claire Bernish April 21, 2016
As public frustration helps sound the death knell for the drug war, its arbitrary laws and policies appear even more absurd. In the latest inexcusable enforcement of an antiquated law, 76-year-old disabled veteran Lee Carroll Brooker will live out what should be his golden years behind bars — for simple possession of cannabis.
Brooker had been treating multiple chronic conditions with cannabis he grew in his son’s backyard; but when officials in Alabama officials discovered the three dozen plants, they threw him in prison for life — without the possibility of parole.
Thanks to a pointless mandatory minimum sentencing catchall — and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his case this week — Brooker has been left little recourse but to ultimately die in jail for treating his ailments with a plant.
“Alabama, like three other states, mandates a life without parole sentence for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana by people with certain prior felony convictions — and Mr. Brooker had been convicted of a string of robberies twenty years earlier in Florida, crimes for which he served ten years in prison,” The New York Times explained. “In such a case, the law doesn’t require prosecutors to prove any intent to sell the drug.”
Essentially, Brooker has been imprisoned twice for the same crime — because he sought relief from nature instead of arguably dangerous, legal and often lethal pharmaceuticals, courtesy of Big Pharma. Worse, Alabama’s already irrational law sets the cutoff in a case like this at 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram), and Brooker’s plants weighed just 2.8 pounds — but that included unusable parts, like stalks and leaves.
Make no mistake — this is an unjust law, an unjust conviction, and a ridiculous capitulation by the Supreme Court to Alabama’s archaic notion a nonviolent offense should somehow land a vet behind bars for life and separate him from his medicine — as if law were an inflexible monster to be beholden to, no matter its worth.
In fact, as the Times pointed out, “[W]hile the sentence was mandatory, the prosecutor was not required to bring the precise charges that triggered it. Prosecutorial discretion here, as in most cases, is a central factor in determining what punishment defendants face.”
In other words, the prosecutor railroaded Brooker over his personal, medicinal plants — by choice. Brooker, who joined the U.S. Army at age 17 and came under fire in both Lebanon and the Dominican Republic, eventually rose to the rank of sergeant in the 82nd Airborne — where he was decorated for infantry service.
Vox reported that even “notoriously conservative” Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore characterized Brooker’s sentence as “excessive and unjustified.” And according to the Times, the judge deciding the vet’s fate would have preferred to hand down a lighter sentence, but once the charges had been brought as they were, he was obligated to enforce the letter of the law.
Yes, this disabled man technically broke the law; but proffering such a rebuttal rings hollow, if not cold, considering the majority of Americans support cannabis legalization. Legality does not dictate morality.
A growing segment of officials and public figures do, as well, as The Free Thought Project reported recently, more than 1,000 police, world leaders, celebrities, and others signed a letter calling to summarily end the disastrous war on drugs.
In fact, though little comfort to Brooker now, the Drug Enforcement Agency will likely downgrade cannabis from its inexplicable Schedule 1 classification to Schedule 2 — as early as July of this year. Note that while a plethora of viable arguments can be asserted for rescheduling, considering states with laws like Alabama’s — and cases like Brooker’s — the slight concession by federal law would make a comparative, whopping difference.
Brooker attempted to bring his case before the highest court in the land as an inarguable violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment — to no avail. The court’s stonewall, in itself, could be considered as much — in an increasing number of states, Brooker’s so-called crime would have been perfectly legal.
For now, though, it appears the 76-year-old will suffer the consequences of bad policy, unjustifiable law, and the cruelty of ostensible authority figures who were all just doing their jobs.