Everything is bigger in Texas, even when it comes to handing out prison sentences for possession of marijuana. This is the unfortunate horror a couple of Amarillo men now face after learning that a judge could sentence them to life in prison for the pot brownies recently found inside their vehicle.
Earlier last week, a Potter County Sheriff’s deputy witnessed the driver of a Kia Soul commit a minor traffic violation along a busy stretch of interstate, causing him to flip on the old red, white, and blues to inspect the situation more closely. When the officer approached the car, he discovered two people inside, 30-year-old Eli Manna and his passenger, 27-year-old Andrew George.
The usual prequel to a roadside shakedown soon followed: driver’s license, registration, and an unreasonable line of questioning, which eventually made the two men nervous enough to arouse suspicion. It was at this moment, we suppose, when the deputy said something to the effect of, “You boys wouldn’t happen to have any of that marijuana in the vehicle, now would you?”
Of course, the two men likely gave the performance of a lifetime, doing their best to convince the deputy that there was nothing illegal in the car by feeding him lines like, “We don’t even smoke weed,” followed by some nervous chatter about not even drinking that much. But the deputy, having heard every excuse in the book, proceeded to take the encounter to the next level by asking the driver if he would consent to a search.
Being no stranger the Fourth Amendment, the driver refused to let the deputy rip his car apart in search of illegal contraband without a warrant. The officer, however, did not appreciate this refusal, and radioed the Texas Department of Public Safety to come out and unleash a drug-sniffing dog. Unfortunately, this is when the situation turned a bit hairy for Manna and George. When the officer turned the dog loose, it immediately alerted to marijuana in the vehicle. A search uncovered a number of individually wrapped pot brownies, which in this case, comes with the possibility of life without the possibility of parole.
This is because the pot laws in the Lone Star State allow the total weight of the marijuana edible to be used when calculating the charges. Under this flawed policy, the two men have been charged with a first-degree felony for possession of over 400 grams of a controlled substance, an offense that could make them permanent fixtures of the Texas Department of Corrections if they are not able to secure a shark-toothed defense team.
Texas is infamous for having some of the strictest and most asinine marijuana laws in the country. In 2014, state prosecutors attempted to bury 19-year-old Jacob Lavoro underneath a state penitentiary after he, too, was caught with pot brownies. Although the pot edibles in Lavaro’s possession only contained about 3 grams of raw cannabis, a misdemeanor under normal circumstances, the police charged him with the total weight—threatening him with five years to life in prison if found guilty. Fortunately, Lavoro’s case was highly publicized and a plea agreement was reached, which cost him only seven years probation.
The idea of living in a society where the possession of marijuana comes with a possible lifetime prison sentence is ludicrous, at best. After all, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the herb for medicinal purposes, while four others have changed the laws to allow recreational pot sales.
Yet Texas Governor Greg Abbott does not believe his state’s marijuana laws should be amended. Last week, during a press conference, Abbott said, “I don’t think decriminalizing marijuana is going to happen.” He said he would rather continue to divert residents “from activity that involves drug use” and help people “lead more productive lives.”