Did marijuana lead Michael Brown into a drug-fueled rage that made him attack Officer Darren Wilson last August, leading to Wilson shooting and killing the unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri?
According to the released toxicology report, Michael Brown had 12 nanograms of active THC in his blood at the time of his killing. By all accounts, Brown was six-foot-five, weighed close to three-hundred pounds, and was a frequent marijuana smoker. Brown may well have awakened that day with 12 nanograms in his system — recall WestWord reporter William Breathes, a far smaller man than Michael Brown, had his blood tested at 13.5 nanograms after sleep and fifteen hours of abstinence.
But that didn’t stop St. Louis County District Attorney Bob McColloch’s prosecutors from making a mountain of marijuana use out of the molehill of THC found in Brown’s blood. “In a small person, say like 100 pounds, to get to 12 nanograms wouldn’t take a lot,” according to the St. Louis County chief toxicologist. “A single joint could easily do that. But when you talk about a larger body mass, just like drinking alcohol, larger persons can drink more alcohol because they have the receptacle to hold it.”
The implication that Michael Brown must have smoked a lot of marijuana to get to 12 nanograms is specious at best. Grand jurors likely had no clue that marijuana in blood is nowhere near analogous to alcohol in blood. If you find a 100-pound person and a 300-pound person with the same 0.15 blood-alcohol level, for instance, you can guarantee both are too impaired to drive a car. If you know when they last drank, you can estimate how much they drank, because alcohol metabolizes at a fairly constant rate. If you know how much they drank, you can estimate how long ago they last drank for the same reason.
But with marijuana, you cannot make those estimates, period. Marijuana metabolizes at different rates for different people at different times under different circumstances. And frequent marijuana users, like Michael Brown, develop a tolerance to the impairing effects of THC. Dr. Michael Baden, the private pathologist made famous on his HBO show who was hired by the Brown family for an independent autopsy, testified that the THC in Brown’s blood was a “relative small amount, and how it affects somebody varies” and that “It doesn’t make people go crazy.”
In one famous video shown on CNN, the camera focuses on two construction workers who are just down the street from where Brown is shot. “He had his fuckin’ hands up,” one of the men says in the video filmed shortly after Brown was shot. But when McColloch’s prosecutors interviewed the construction workers for the grand jury, they didn’t concentrate on what they had told CNN, “The cop didn’t say get on the ground. He just kept shooting,” or that the video showed the man raising his arms in the air — just as, he says, Brown was doing when he was shot.
Instead, prosecutors focused in on the minutes before Officer Wilson arrived, as Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson passed these two workers on the street. In the testimony, one of the workers said they engaged in a small talk conversation about Jesus and anger management with Johnson and Brown when they noticed Brown had a small amount of marijuana on him. One worker told Brown, “You ought to try this wax stuff,” referring to marijuana concentrate. The conversation was confirmed by Johnson, who denied that Brown had used any marijuana that day.
A detective who testified to the grand jury said he didn’t know what wax was at first, but then Brown’s toxicology report came back indicating the 12 nanograms of THC in his blood. Seeking guidance from the medical examiner, the detective told the grand jury that the coroner told him 12 nanograms of THC “could have potentially caused a loss in perception of space and time and there was also the possibility that there could have been hallucinations.”
Despite Johnson saying they hadn’t used marijuana, despite no marijuana being found on Brown or Johnson, despite the workers both saying they hadn’t given any marijuana to Brown and Johnson, the detective told the grand jury he suspected that the workers sold Brown some concentrate. Despite the evidence that seemed to show Brown hadn’t even heard of “wax,” McColloch’s prosecutor asked a police chemist, “If one were to ingest that, you would be consuming a higher level of THC than you would if you were to have smoked or ingested the plant material?” and receiving the expected truthful answer of yes.
Continuing the line of questioning to the toxicologist, the prosecutors once again planted the seed that Brown’s marijuana use turned him into a drug-fueled beast. “But you cannot draw any conclusions that he was suffering or that he was experiencing hallucinations or having a psychotic break?” to which the toxicologist replies, “That is correct.” What other terrible symptoms can we not be sure about when it comes to Michael Brown’s unknown use of marijuana at some unspecified time in some unspecified amount, but we can mention to the grand jury to plant in their heads?
In the end, the grand jury failed to induct Officer Wilson. Twelve people who very likely don’t use marijuana or understand a thing about it were exposed to 44 instances of Brown’s marijuana use being questioned. They’re told 12 nanograms would require a lot of marijuana for a big fellow like Brown and that a THC level that high can cause hallucinations and psychosis. They’re given the implication that may be a “wax” user and then frightened by the concept that this new scary drug is so much more potent than mere pot smoking. They’ve seen the video from the convenience store where Brown pushes a store clerk and steals Cigarillos used for marijuana blunts. Then they hear four hours of testimony from Wilson explaining how big Michael Brown was, like “Hulk Hogan”, his face a “demon”, his body making “a grunting, like aggravated sound” and “bulking up to run through the shots.”
In the end, they believed it all, because, of course, cops who are given weeks to tell their story after seeing all the witness testimony and forensic evidence leaked to the press don’t change their narrative for retroactively continuity. For the grand jury, Officer Wilson had no choice but to gun down the unarmed psychotic pothead in self-defense.
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