Phillip Blanton is the type of red-blooded, honest American who, when the time comes to visit his terminally ill granddaughter four states away, hops in the car and drives there.
The bearded and rawboned 67-year-old former prison counselor lives in Newman, California, one of the countless dusty towns dotting the state’s interminable Central Valley—for the uninitiated, the Golden State’s own “Trump County.” He began 2017 on the open road, heading out via the West’s great freedom-casting freeways to Houston, where his 20-year-old granddaughter is afflicted with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Owing to the very real medical and familial emergency or just bored with driving through Texas, Blanton was 1,500 miles into his sojourn when he was pulled over for speeding.
KHOU doesn’t specify how exactly the subject came up—maybe it was the California license plates, which generally mean one thing and one thing only to police officers in red states; maybe Blanton’s rugged all-around Americanism also includes a fatal streak of honesty—but somehow the conversation was steered toward drugs, as in whether Blanton had any.
This is a real, freedom-loving, individualistic type we’re talking about—of course he did.
Blanton is a survivor of both triple-bypass surgery and polio, and he has used medical marijuana for 10 years to deal with pain, while still being able to function. Can’t exactly leave that affliction at home, so Blanton had four ounces of cannabis, a few marijuana-laden cookies and his medical cannabis recommendation packed away in his trunk.
Blanton also copped to having a pipe in the car, which was music to the ears of the Texas Department of Public Safety troopers who pulled him over.
“I said, ‘Officer, I don’t have any illegal drugs on me. Everything I have is a prescription from my doctor,’” Blanton said. “He goes, ‘If that dog finds anything, you’re going to jail.’”
“I said, ‘What? Are you kidding me? I’m a patient. I’m a grandfather—not a drug dealer,’” Blanton said. “I’m there in handcuffs feeling like a total loser…a second-class citizen.”
Cops found the weed, and true to the lawman’s threat, Blanton was arrested and spent the night in jail. He’s home now after posting “a portion” of his $20,000 bond. As for his granddaughter… he never made it.
Stress from the ordeal has made him “physically sick” enough for doctors to recommend he stay away from her bedside until he recovers, as per KHOU.
Before you pin all the blame on Blanton, consider this: Up until he reached Texas, what he was doing was mostly legal. It is now possible to drive most of the way from California to Texas, with marijuana, without breaking a state law. Nevada legalized recreational cannabis along with California in November, and Arizona respects out-of-state medical marijuana recommendations.
Pious Utah is a no-go-zone, the no-man’s-land separating the West Coast from its spiritual brethren in cannabis wonderland Colorado, and though New Mexico allows for medical marijuana, it doesn’t respect out-of-state paperwork and punishes simple possession as a misdemeanor.
As most any Texan will never tire of telling you, none of that matters in the great state of Texas.
Still, the near-license of Blanton’s loaded road trip and the great significance of his drive being even close to legally defensible, is both an excuse for doing it and a microcosm of the arbitrary and cruel patchwork that serves as America’s drug laws.
Back home in California, Blanton now swears he’s doing another all-American thing: He’s going to fight it, in Texas, because he believes what he did was perfectly fine. He refuses to accept a plea deal, he told KHOU, and is looking forward to a court date sometime in the next six months.
It’s a grand gesture but very possibly a foolish gamble.
If he loses, he could go to prison. But if he wins, he beats an unjust and unfair system punishing respectable people for victimless crimes. Somewhere in there, he might also make it to the hospital to see his granddaughter.
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