A friend who admits she smokes marijuana says laws declaring the drug illegal are "stupid."

"When the law is stupid I see no reason to obey it," she adds.

She and other members of the Floyd County’s marijuana community are upset over Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt’s dogged enforcement of laws against marijuana manufacturing and use. Shortt recently obtained a guilty plea from Patrick Fenn, a local pot user who grows a lot of the drug for his use and to hand out to friends. Shortt is also threatening to take Fenn’s house because Virginia law allows confiscation of property used in drug production and distribution.

"Stephanie Shortt’s problem is that she never smoked grass," my friend declared.

I don’t know if Shortt smoked grass as a young woman or not. A lot of people her age did so during their college years. It’s not a question I normally ask a candidate for office. For the record, I did not smoke grass in college. My drug of choice was scotch and I abused it and other alcohol for more than 30 years. My last use of that drug was 14 years, 11 months and two days ago.

Shortt campaigned for office on a promise to enforce the drug laws and to crack down on the "get out of jail free" plea deals of previous Commonwealth’s Attorney Gordon Hannett. Her pursuit of Fenn and other marijuana growers in the county has angered some of the pot heads who supported her in the 2007 elections, making Shortt one of those rare politicians who is in trouble with some supporters for actually delivering on a campaign promise.

"We must be a nation of laws," said John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. That notion provided one of the foundations of that historic document and the Constitution that followed it.

Yet I hear from people who suggest that we should be a nation of laws only when they happen to agree with that law.  This issue has popped up in recent weeks with our stories on the the widespread violations of traffic laws.

Says one emailer: "The stop sign at Barberry should be a yield sign. It used to be one. It should be again."

Or another: "Passing on the right is not that dangerous. It should not be against the law."

If we are to be a nation of laws can we be one if people are allowed to pick and choose which laws to obey and discard those they feel are "stupid" or "wrong?"

Some might say that breaking a traffic law is no big deal. After all, traffic laws are not even considered misdemeanors, much less a felony.

If you run a stop sign and cause an accident that causes a death you can be charged with vehicular manslaughter, which is a felony. If a car ahead of you is turning left and you whip around on the right and strike a pedestrian, motorcyclist or another vehicle and someone dies you could, and should, end up in prison.

And if you grow marijuana and give enough of it to your friends that is called distribution under the law and is also a felony.

A felony conviction can cost you basic rights of citizenship, including the right to vote, to obtain a passport and travel or keep you from getting a job and making a living.

Yeah, the law might be stupid but the real stupidity is putting your future at risk by ignoring it.

33 COMMENTS

  1. I believe Stephanie Shortt has done an excellent job since taking office. She has gotten convictions consistently in cases that I have followed. Whatever one believes about drug legalization, it is totally unrealistic to expect local law enforcement agencies and the local prosecutor to ignore someone who grows and/or distributes marijuana (especially in large quantities).

    I am disappointed to hear about the use of asset forfeiture by the local authorities. I can agree with “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”, but taking real estate and other property that often has been paid for with legitimate funds and has a tangential relationship or no real relationship to illegal activity happens far too often with asset forfeiture laws. I am unaware of the Patrick Fenn case and how the property was related to the growing and sale of marijuana. I do know that the risk of asset forfeiture has influenced some to grow marijuana on federal land or on rural land that is unoccupied rather than risk losing their own property. As long as there is demand the growing will continue in some form.

  2. …it is subject to seizure.

    In this case, the marijuana was apparently cured inside the home, which makes the home vulnerable.

  3. For those opposed to asset forfeiture, here is a campaign against it from DownSizeDC.

    The site has other campaigns to cut government spending, preserve local farming, repeal Real ID, end Bailouts, and more. Their “Read the Bills Act”, “Enumerated Powers Act” and “One Subject at a Time Act” are particularly interesting. So if drugs aren’t your thing, but Liberty is, check these others out.

  4. Doug,
    With all due respect, I predict that marijuana will be legalized everywhere in the United States some time in the next decade.

    You might not like it, and I respect your views, but take that to the bank. Pot will no longer be illegal for several reasons, not the least of which is that it will become obvious to everyone, including the most die-hard prohibitionist doomsayers, that enforcement isn’t working, and that the “war on drugs” is a failure of epic proportions.

    Furthermore, the medicinal uses of pot are well documented, and the weed serves well where other meds fail.

    Last but not least, the hemp economy is needed, and legalization of hemp cultivation will be railroaded by the big ag corps once they finally realize that society views the non-recreational uses of the plant as a boon to a sagging economy.

    But even though the industrial hemp plant is a distant relative to its “weaponized” Berkeley cousin, it will nevertheless provide the final chink in the rusting armor of the decades old anti-pot groups, many of whom find their roots in the liquor companies to begin with.

    Alcohol prohibition failed. So will pot prohibition.
    It’s not a question of if, but when…it’s just taking longer because we’re not as smart as we were seventy some years ago.

    And Doug, with all due respect, your dear friend wasn’t killed because a careless driver smoked some weed.
    He was killed because a driver who makes stupid choices with weed could have just as easily made the same stupid choice with anything, be it weed, booze, or just looking down to read a text message from his best girl.

  5. Asset forfeiture, and end run around the Constitutional protections afforded to flesh and blood citizens of the United States of America.

    When the settled law is deemed insufficient to punish the lawbreaker, jurisdictions use a tool that provides them with the means to sidestep prohibitions against abuse of due process.

    The justice system presumes that a citizen is “innocent until proven guilty” but no such protection is afforded inanimate objects such as property, therefore it is easy to charge the object with a crime, and in the case of asset forfeiture the object is presumed “guilty until proven innocent”.

    Thus, a car has committed a crime and it is impounded, thus a house committed a crime and it is auctioned off, with proceeds going to the coffers of the jurisdiction, and in cases like the tiny town of Tenaha, Texas, sometimes directly into the pockets of the judge, jury and executioners themselves.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenaha,_Texas#Police_seizures_scandal

    We haven’t come too far since the days of the witchhunts. Sometimes the cost to recover property seized unjustly is more than the value of the property itself, and because seizures take place merely by charges being filed, it’s usually pointless to bother with a trial, either for the accused or their property.

    Obviously we haven’t come too far since the days of the Black Hand, either.

    But it’s all good…just be sure to sit down and have a nice long chat with your property, and tell it to watch its back.

  6. only has to be ACCUSED of being used for production and distribution. The mere accusation of such by law enforcement is enough to trigger asset forfeiture proceedings. There is no requirement that the local governmental entity PROVE anything at all.

    If a judge or a police chief gets it into their head that they want a piece of property taken, they file a brief or request a warrant, or one of their officers simply uses “probable cause”, and the property can be seized.

    Yes, it IS that easy, and yes it IS that difficult to get your property returned if said governmental entity decides that they don’t want you to have it back.

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