After only five months in Idaho, WC was selected for jury duty by the good folks at the Ada County Court System. WC reported for duty on February 1, 2016, along with 40 of his fellow citizens. The case, the judge explained, involved a felony, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, an inference derived by statute adopted by the Idaho Legislature. The inference could be drawn, the legislators had concluded, from possession of three ounces or more of demon weed. The defendant had possessed six ounces of dope, stored, with his other personal property, in a storage unit.
WC never wins lotteries, but WC won a second time when his name was drawn from the pool of 40 so WC took his seat in the jury box with 14 other candidate-jurors and waited for his turn to be subjected to voir dire.
Alaska was the first state to legalize marijuana. The deed was done through a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision, Ravin v. State, when the court decided that Alaska’s constitutional right to privacy extended to smoking small amounts of dope in the privacy of your home. The puritans1 – there are always puritans – persuaded the voters adopt an initiative to outlaw such rabidly dangerous conduct, but the court of appeals struck down that law, too. It was still illegal to buy dope, and illegal to sell dope, but possession and use of an ounce to so in your home wasn’t illegal. Despite the concerns of the puritans, the alarm of the legislators and the dire warnings of the police, the world did not end, criminals did not rage through the streets, and drug fiends did not emerge to stalk Alaska’s children. In 2014 Alaska voters, again by initiative, legalized the regulated possession, farming and sale of marijuana.
Voir dire is nominally the opportunity for the parties to make certain that a candidate-juror, a venireman, will be fair and is qualified to be a juror. Attorneys also use it for the additional purpose of educating the jurors about the merits or lack of merits of the case. WC was the third juror to be examined. It went something like this:
Defense counsel: How long have you lived in Idaho?
WC: A little less than five months.
Defense Counsel: Where did you live before that?
(Murmurs in the courtroom. Alaska’s reputation had apparently preceded it.)
Defense Counsel: What did you do there?
WC: I practiced law.
(The County Prosecutor jerked like he’d gotten an electric shock. Hadn’t he read the juror questionnaire?)
Defense Counsel: Does Alaska criminalize possession of marijuana?
WC: Generally, no.
Defense Counsel: Do you agree with that?
Defense Counsel: Can you explain why you feel that way?
Defense Counsel: Please explain your opinion.
WC: (Paused briefly, but no objection from the County Prosecutor) It’s an absurd waste of law enforcement and judicial resources.
County Prosecutor: Your honor, the County requests voir dire continue in chambers.
Some years ago, WC represented the lender to a greenhouse business that turned out to subsidize itself by an impressive-sized marijuana grow in the basement, under all those roses. The owners should have been more selective in their hiring decisions. When a joint state-federal criminal investigation busted them, the state pursued criminal forfeiture of the greenhouse property. WC’s task was to protect the lender’s interests in its loan collateral. It was a messy, protracted and expensive process. The lender truly had known nothing about the underground (sorry) operation, but the State of Alaska really wanted the property. They didn’t get it. But the consequences of the attempt were to drive up the cost of credit to everyone in Alaska: additional pre-loan investigations, background checks and more due diligence. Another unintended consequence of the War on Drugs.
(Voir dire in chambers)
Judge: Sir, can you set aside your personal feelings about marijuana laws and apply the laws of Idaho to the facts as presented by the parties?
WC: No, Your Honor. It’s a matter of strong personal principle.
Judge: I respect your honesty and principles, but cannot allow you to serve on this jury.
WC: Yes, Your Honor.
WC isn’t suggesting marijuana hasn’t ever wrecked folks’ lives. Dougie, WC’s next door dorm mate his freshman year at Oregon transformed himself from a bright, if naive, young scholar to a classic stoner dropout in less than eight weeks, doing a truly amazing amount of grass during every waking hour. The ancient radiators in the dorm carried enough fumes into WC’s room to give him occasional contact highs. Sure, who’s to say he wouldn’t have done the same thing with beer? And, patently, the then-illegality of marijuana in Oregon didn’t do a thing to keep the stuff away from Dougie.
(Back in the courtroom)
Judge: [WC], you are thanked and excused. You may leave.
WC: Thank you, Your Honor.
WC is proud to say that it took a second pool of jurors, at total of 80 potential jurors, to assemble a panel of 12 and two alternates who would claim to be fair. And they still acquitted the defendant. After less than two hours of deliberation. The right outcome, in WC’s personal opinion, but nonetheless an absurd waste or law enforcement and judicial resources.
WC hasn’t been called as a juror since.
WC doesn’t use marijuana, for reasons good and sufficient to him. But the ongoing criminalization of marijuana in Idaho and other states, and by the federal government, is far beyond stupid.
1 Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be having fun. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary