17 pounds of pot, House Bill boosts decriminalization threshold—and weed reviews return

Dwight Chinyee’s cannabis, seized by police on Feb. 5

After the cops arrested Dwight Chinyee, they lined-up, on the hood of his truck, all of the vacuum-sealed bags of weed they found and photographed them right there on the shoulder of I-95 in the middle of the day.

It was a pretty good pot bust—17 pounds.

Chinyee was pulled over by police on Feb. 5 driving southbound on I-95, police said, going 72 in a 40 mph zone with 17 pounds of weed in his truck. He got a speeding ticket and for all that weed, was charged with possession with intent to distribute and felony trafficking between 5 and 45 kilograms for which he would have faced up to 10 years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.

The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office recommended no bail for Chinyee after his arrest and he spent more than a month in jail before his charges were finally dropped on March 7. The SAO determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Chinyee’s 17 pounds fell under possession with intent to distribute rather than simple possession and SAO Marilyn Mosby had recently announced she was no longer prosecuting possession at all.

That announcement back in January garnered Mosby lots of press and mainstreamed the conversation in Baltimore about racial parity and cannabis while also creating more legal gray areas that continue to jam people like Chinyee up in the system.

Tony Garcia, Chinyee’s lawyer, explained at a press conference that Chinyee lost his job as a result of being in jail all that time. His client’s case was an example of how the SAO’s announcement about no longer charging pot possession was sloppy, inconsistent, ad-hoc.

“The miscommunication concerning this new policy is heightened when the message is contradictory to the action of the Office of the State’s Attorney,” Garcia said.

“There were several factors that we initially considered that were supportive of the distribution charges in this case,” Melba Saunders, spokesperson for the SAO said in a statement. “However, after further review and investigation, our prosecutors determined that the facts did not extend beyond mere possession and decided to [drop] the case prior to indictment.”

Saunders would not elaborate on the specifics about how the SAO determined that Chinyee merely possessed cannabis and had no plans to distribute it. And she would not articulate general criteria within the SAO for distinguishing possession and possession with intent to distribute either. Saunders only pointed me to the SAO’s “Marijuana Prosecution Policy” page where it explains that possession cases, “regardless of weight or a person’s prior criminal record,” won’t be prosecuted and only cases where “there is articulated evidence of intent to distribute beyond possession” will be.

Before the charges were dropped Chinyee faced serious charges. Now he is not facing those charges, and even though he lost his job and spent a month in jail, this currently, in our fractured justice system, counts as something like a win—even amid a “progressive” change to how pot’s prosecuted.

Another way this was a bit of a mess: Some attorneys working for the SAO learned about Mosby’s announcement about possession at the same time as the rest of the public. This was especially troublesome for prosecutors whose job is ultimately to secure convictions. Now their boss was telling them to do away with a large swath of potential convictions.

And the stigma of weed persists in Baltimore. Police maintain that someone with that much weed is likely to protect it violently even as the black market for cannabis rapidly declines. Though it isn’t like police are apt to be kinder to someone with 17 ounces (still misdemeanor possession in Maryland) than someone with 17 pounds. Police remain adamant about continuing to arrest people for weed even if the SAO promises to not prosecute them, catching folks with weed up in a ridiculous and racist system that disproportionately arrests black folks for weed—which was why Mosby made her announcement in the first place.

Then-interim commissioner Gary Tuggle said that  right after Mosby’s announcement: “Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession.” New commissioner Michael Harrison said as much too during the community meetings across the city last month, floating a conversation with the SAO but little more than that.

Political grandstanding from Mosby aside (the announcement was an exclusive to the New York Times, who sent a reporter down to cover it), the announcement has increased awareness about racial disparities and weed arrests. The state will likely get closer to legalization sooner because of Mosby. And consider this: Chinyee was pulled over not far from the county line. Had he been in the county, he would likely be facing felony charges. That something as simple as a county line determines whether someone does serious time or not speaks to the absurdity of current weed laws in Maryland—and the reasonable response is not to bemoan how a man with 17 pounds of weeds possibly “got away” but how there are countless people with weed still sitting in jail, the ones who did not get away.

The only reasonable solution to this is full-stop legalization, which would eliminate confusion and gray areas altogether.

House Bill 875

Del. Moon discussing HB875

A current House Bill introduced in February by Delegates David Moon, Erek Barron, and Jazz Lewis would get us closer to legalization and provide some crucial fixes in the meantime.

Del. Moon addressed the House Judiciary Committee about HB875 on March 5 where he outlined the bill which would among other things, raise the decriminalized threshold to an ounce—it is currently at 10 grams, the lowest threshold among decriminalized states in the country.

“Ten grams is the lowest amount decriminalized in any state and that has lots of repercussions. It’s also not a unit at which marijuana is sold. It’s not an easy standard for people to follow if they’re trying to be in compliance with the law,” Moon said.

The bill would also eliminate the use of cannabis smell as probable cause to search and arrest someone. Police maintain that weed is an important investigative tool, by which they means weed is a great way for police to justify searching your car, house, or digging through your pockets. In 2017, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that challenged police using pot smell as probable cause arguing that because cops cannot, from smell alone, determine if someone has 10 grams or less (a decriminalized amount) or more than 10 grams (a misdemeanor possession amount), they can search anybody they say smells like weed.

HB875 would also no longer allow the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services and the Division of Parole and Probation to consider a positive for cannabis in a urine sample as violation of parole probation, or pretrial release unless a judge specifically requested it.

“If we’ve decriminalized marijuana, do we still think that people who are out on parole or probation should be reincarcerated if they use marijuana?” Moon said. “I took a look at what the District of Columbia did and what they did was they said, ‘It can still be a parole or probation violation but it has to be specifically requested.’ It can’t be on a form that just says, ‘don’t use drugs.’ The judge would have to request it and therefore, presumably have a reason for requesting that into their parole or probation order.”

Lastly, the bill would introduce the presumption that possessing a specific amount of cannabis does not mean the person possessing it plans on distributing it. It would be on the state to challenge that presumption. Currently, the state ostensibly has the presumption of distribution on their side.

“Even with those folks that possess marijuana under 10 grams, they still might have someone try to bring charges against them for possession with intent if, say, they had their marijuana in two or three bags or say, pre-roll several joints,” Moon said.

Cannabis Arrest Data

Graphic by Charlie Herrick

Mosby’s January announcement arrived a month after the publication of “Structural Racism and Cannabis: Black Baltimoreans still disproportionately arrested for weed after decriminalization,” a piece written by Ethan McLeod, Andy Friedman, and I for the Baltimore Fishbowl in collaboration with the Baltimore Institute For Nonprofit Journalism, the nonprofit which helps support the Beat. Our piece found that 96% percent of Baltimoreans arrested for cannabis possession between 2015 and 2017 were black.

Our work was cited in the policy paper that came along with the announcement, “Reforming A Broken System: Rethinking The Role Of Marijuana Prosecutions In Baltimore City,” our research was cited. When we reached out to Mosby’s office in the fall while we were working on the piece, the SAO declined comment on racial disparities and arrest and whether Mosby would do what she eventually did—decline to prosecute pot the way district attorneys in nearby Philadelphia and Manhattan had done (both of Mosby’s opponents in the 2018 SAO election, Ivan Bates and Thiru Vignarajah said they would do this if elected).

Ethan, Andy, and I also wanted to make the raw data we received via Maryland Public Information Act requests and via the FBI available to any readers. There’s plenty more ways to crunch this data. For example: Which specific officers arrested the most people for weed? Are there specific times of day where more people are hit with weed charges?

You can download the data as a zip file here.

Strain Review: Trainwreck Light Dep

Trainwreck Light Dep / Photo by Brandon Soderberg

During the Beat’s first run, I reviewed Trainwreck, an especially satisfying pain-relieving strain that I praised in contrast to some other more melty, almost narcotic strains because it left me “more dreamy than cloudy,” and the relief it enables “races through your body and latches on to your joints and then lightly pounds and massages them for a few hours.” This week, I’m reviewing Trainwreck Light Dep, the same strain only grown using the light-deprivation growing technique, which is probably worth explaining to some readers.

Briefly, the plant is hit with enough artificial darkness that the flowering cycle kicks off more often than it naturally would, so the plant grows faster. By exposing the plant to more darkness, it psychs the pot plant out so that it thinks its among the dwindling daylight hours of fall, harvest time, and has to get growing fast. The technique is becoming popular as legalization creates a growing demand for more and more weed—bending nature’s will a bit, all in service to market forces.

Streamlining a process, taking it out of the ground and away from the sun, is something we should all be suspicious of when it is on this level, and some of its proselytizers surely give off the vibes of your average power-hungry and naive tech-doof utopian. Really though, light dep cannabis is almost a different product entirely: Comparing and contrasting a strain grown under these conditions and one grown more conventionally can give us something resembling a scientific approach when it comes to parsing what light dep does to weed.

Trainwreck Light Dep is more cloudy than dreamy and its pain relief is less comprehensive (for some though maybe more focused like a Tylenol): a coy body high that travels and doesn’t so much lightly pound as gauchely vibrate like motel Magic Fingers. Many say light dep creates mostly mid-grade-like weed, which kind of makes sense—such is the case with a sped-up and just generally more artificial process—and Trainwreck vs. Trainwreck Light Dep bears this out for sure. Its smell and taste were interesting, uglier though—a licorice scent with an about-to-rot citrus taste whereas regular Trainwreck I wrote, recalled a “lavender-infused cheap beer.”

One baffling byproduct of Trainwreck Light Dep was that it gave me a cognitive superpower or something, anxiety and focus at the same time on a micro level; like when I smoked some and was about to lock my door and realized I didn’t have my keys. It made me more responsible and responsive. FWIW, on Trainwreck regular I’d have more likely remembered this too late and locked my stupid, stoned ass out of my apartment.

So maybe I welcome more mid-grade at this moment and light dep is the way to get that, since the industry is all behind it. There is just so much weed (knock-you-out strains and potent, even cruel hybrids with names that invoke thrash metal bands) and so many weed-ingesting techniques (smoking dabs off a nail with a blowtorch like you’re cosplaying as some pot version of Pooky from “New Jack City”) that as my fellow reviewer Baynard Woods has said, seemingly intend to “make soft drugs hard,” and that doesn’t make much sense. Here, light dep tempers the fuck-you-up qualities of Trainwreck, turning a strain that may be too much for a whole bunch of people into something only slightly less rewarding and more manageable, less like a trainwreck, more like say, a fender-bender.

  • Strength: 7
  • Nose: Sambuca and a Tangerine La Croix
  • Euphoria: 7
  • Existential dread: 3
  • Freaking out when a crazy person approaches you: 4
  • Drink pairing: Sambuca and a Tangerine La Croix
  • Music pairing: LOL Boys, “Changes EP,” or Ariel Kalma, “An Evolutionary Music (Original Recordings: 1972-1979)”
  • Rating: 7
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