By Kris Hermes
Virgil Grant, a loving husband and father, was sentenced Monday to 6 years in prison for lawfully providing medical marijuana to patients in accordance with California law. Grant, who operated dispensaries in some of the poorer and Black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, is the victim of a bygone federal policy, which is still needlessly ruining lives. Although there is a back-story to Grant’s persecution, make no mistake he was targeted by a hostile Bush Administration and now sentenced under President Obama despite a policy that should deter such needless and harmful punishment.
On December 19, 2007, Jeremy White, who was 20-years-old at the time, drove off the road on Highway 101, north of Ventura, killing a pulled-over driver and paralyzing a highway patrol officer. White happened to be in possession of medical marijuana obtained from Grant’s dispensary Holistic Caregivers in Compton, and he also allegedly admitted to being under the influence of marijuana at the time. However, current news reports are not telling you that, according to forensic evidence used in White’s subsequent prosecution for vehicular manslaughter, the drug Ecstasy was also found in White’s blood. White was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
There are truly no winners in that story. However, White’s punishment was not enough for the federal government. After the December 2007 accident, Bush’s Justice Department had all the sympathy it needed to go after Grant. In May of 2008, Grant and his wife Pshyra were arrested on drug conspiracy, money laundering and operating a drug-involved premises within 1,000 feet of a school. A press release issued by the DEA at the time accused the Grants of being “nothing more than drug traffickers.” U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien chimed in, claiming their dispensaries “were simply drug-dealing enterprises designed to generate profits for those who chose to ignore federal law and flout state law.”
However, none of their charges amounted to a violation of state law. As is often the case, the federal government made accusations of state law violations, but never had to back up those claims with any evidence. Instead, U.S. Attorney O’Brien issued the rhetorical statement that, “The tragic accident that killed Andreas Parra and crippled CHP Officer Pedeferri can be directly linked to this disregard of the laws.” What O’Brien isn’t saying is that the Grants would be prohibited from using medical marijuana or evidence of state law compliance as a defense in federal court. What’s worse is that a plea bargain was extorted from Grant by the federal government. As long as he pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana, the charges against Grant’s wife Pshyra would be dropped; a cynical and sinister tactic to say the least.
The Grants had nothing to do with White’s accident and the tragedy it caused. Yet, that mattered little to the government’s misguided and moral crusade, which resulted in the needless imprisonment of another man. Not only should the federal government stop prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers, something the October 2009 Justice Department directive fails to curb, we should also pass legislation that would provide those still being prosecuted with an adequate defense in federal court.
Consider writing to Grant and others serving time as a result of needless federal prosecutions. They are neither gone nor forgotten and are in need our support!