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Sunday, October 2, 2022

At Jonathan Wall’s Marijuana Trial, Legalization Looms

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BALTIMORE – Mitzi Wall has waited two years for this moment, and now, while the jury is deliberating upstairs, all she can do is wander down the courtroom lobby.

To Wall, her son’s accusation of conspiracy to smuggle marijuana was outrageous, even if the evidence against him was strong. Blonde and bespectacled at age 61, she was motivated by his indictment to become an advocate for marijuana-related criminal justice reform.

“I just started folding the layers back and diving deeper and deeper into them,” Wall said. “I thought we were a just and moral country that tried people for violent crimes.”

Mitzi Wall said, Jonathan Wall’s first attorney wanted him to take a plea bargain, just as the other 10 co-conspirators in the case had done. But Wall wanted to fight: Nobody, he and his family believed, should go to prison for marijuana.

For Mitzi Wall, her son’s case highlighted the complexities of this moment in the nation’s marijuana debate. a strong majority of Americans, 68 percent, Support rationing now. Eighteen states in addition to the capital have already legalized recreational tenure, and Maryland voters, juries among them, Will decide in November Both do likewise. However, the drug remains illegal federally, resulting in a patchwork system that means those with the proper licensing in the appropriate state can make millions of dollars from the burgeoning industry, while others, like Jonathan Wall, face jail time.

“The black market for cannabis, medical cannabis, recreational cannabis – the difference between them all is the character of the bureaucracy,” he said.

But The Walls didn’t have to make that argument in court. Instead, the jury heard testimony from honorable corporal And the alleged co-conspirators with Jonathan Wall: Friends, acquaintances, and clients who prosecutors said were involved in an expanded project to ship hundreds of pounds of weed from California to Baltimore.

“This is not a case of marijuana possession,” Assistant US Attorney Anatoly Smolkin said during closing arguments. “This is a case of a drug conspiracy to distribute massive amounts of marijuana across the country.”

Downstairs next, Wal Mitzi leaned against the window and looked at the rainy city street. She was worried that the jury would rush to finish the trial before the Mother’s Day holiday.

after an hour and thirty minutes , The news came.

White and upper middle class, Jonathan Wall doesn’t reflect the communities most affected by the war on drugs, and he knows it. It was black Americans Arrested At 3.64 times the rate of white people who use marijuana, even though they use it at similar rates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. review Between 2010 and 2018.

“I’m just an example of what happened to many other Americans, most of whom haven’t gotten the attention I get, mainly because of the color of their skin,” said Wall, 27.

He grew up with his mom, dad, and sister in suburban Baltimore before dropping out of high school In Harford County, obtaining a GED and moving to California to enter the cannabis industry. According to witnesses and prosecutors, he was selling pots in Baltimore before he moved.

As more states begin to legalize cannabis, cases of federal marijuana trafficking like Wall have begun to decline. In 2021, the US Judgment Committee just reported Less than 1000 cases like thisless than a third of the total reported in 2016. Overall, only about 2 percent of federal criminal defendants already going to trial; Of those, 17 percent were acquitted.

But Wall told his mother he was “not going to jail for a factory.”

Accused in 2019 of conspiracy to distribute More than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, fled to Guatemala. It wasn’t a permanent move, says Wall: He believed that if he waited, the political climate might change. Marijuana will probably become federally legal by the time he’s back.

He returned and turned himself in in June 2020, the same year he went Four more states Legalized recreational herb. Four others did so in 2021, as he was awaiting trial. A month before the opening statements of the US House of Representatives passed a bill would federally Decriminalization of marijuana, which is still classified as a schedule drug next to LSD and heroin.

Wall and his attorney, Jason Flores Williams, He hopes to ride this momentum and secure acquittal by “nulling the jury.” This practice, which was common in drug cases in Washington, D.C. in the 1990s, allows this Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, explained that jurors send a message about what they think of the law, or take a stand against divergent application.

If a jury acquits Wall Street, “it only proves that the vast majority of Americans believe marijuana should be legal,” said Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.

But prosecutors quickly stopped the attempt.

“The fact that other jurisdictions have legalized marijuana, have decriminalized marijuana, are considering decriminalizing certain amounts of marijuana, or have refused to prosecute individuals for marijuana-related offenses, is not relevant to the issues at issue in this trial,” they argued in the pretrial motion. .

US District Court Judge Stephanie Gallagher, appointed by President Donald Trump, agreed. Little cannabis legalization movement In Wal-block’s trial.

“You can’t realize it”

The ruling left a lot unsaid about marijuana and criminal justice that Wal Mitzi learned. A retired federal government employee, she began working after the indictment with a nonprofit organization that provides resources to those accused of marijuana crimes and their families. She facilitated Christmas shopping trips for the guests’ children.

Of her calling, she said, “It started with Jonathan, but now it’s for everyone. Because once you know these things, you can’t tell.”

And that makes her part of her son’s argument, too.

“Given how strong an advocate she’s become, obviously with what happened to her son, it’s kind of a show where I think a lot of Central Americans are standing on the same issue,” said Jonathan Wall.

Drug policy experts say the number of people serving prison terms for mere possession alone is likely to be very small. But many of those charged with more severe charges, such as distribution, remain in prison even in countries that have legalized it.

“A lot of people think that when the legislation passes, the prison doors open for people who serve marijuana,” said Gracie Burger, director of state policy for the nonprofit Last Prisoner Project. “And that’s not true.”

During the trial last week, with friends and family behind him, Wall spent five days listening to his childhood friends and roommates tell a jury about their days selling marijuana together in Baltimore. Prosecutors showed pictures of weeds of cash in hidden kennels, and showed stock excel sheets for dozens of breeds from the factory.

Flores Williams argued that the government had no conclusive evidence: no DNA, no photos of Wool. But prosecutors said they didn’t need it because it was a conspiracy case. They only had to prove that Wall had entered into an “agreement for the distribution or possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute marijuana,” and argued that was exactly what Wall had done. Prosecutors said Representatives confiscated $860,000 from a single hideout in the Baltimore area, and the project was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Wall alone had seized $95,000 in cash at an airport in San Francisco.

“They took it from him because it was drug money,” said Christopher Romano, special assistant attorney general for the United States.

In closing arguments, Floris Williams risked it was inconceivable that law enforcement would continue to use resources “to break doors in a raid to demand people of marijuana.” Prosecutors quickly objected. The discussion of the legalization movement was as close as possible to the discussion of the Wall team.

Mitzi Wall joined their family next in the lobby of the courthouse, where they waited for the call to go back upstairs. When that came, I went down to the elevator and took a deep breath before the doors to the seventh floor opened.

Minutes later, the jury delivered its verdict: It found Jonathan guilty.

Mitzi Wall’s head fell and her eyes filled with tears. Jonathan was returned to custody. Floris Williams hung his bag softly over his shoulder and made his way out of the courtroom.

“In the end, this was a referendum on whether or not Americans will continue to lock people up because of fate,” he said. “The answer: Yes, they will.”

Floris Williams moved to withdraw out of the case immediately after the verdict, leaving Wall without legal representation pending the verdict. He said Wall rejected a six-year plea bargain. The minimum sentence for a conviction is 10 years for life.

“I don’t know,” Wall said when asked if he regretted going to court. “Perhaps you will ask me after judgment. If they beat me by twenty years, yes, I will probably regret it.”

Her Mother’s Day weekend ended quietly, and many of her were spent thinking about the case and everything that went wrong. She wished her son had responded.

“I knew it was going to be hard to fight them, but I didn’t know it was going to be that hard,” she said. “I guess I wish I was the one living in a bubble, not anyone else.”

She said she plans to return to help those with marijuana convictions, but not immediately. She needs to treat her son first.

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