A 19-year-old could be facing life in prison for making pot brownies, but are edibles trivializing consumers’ concept of the power of THC?
In Round Rock, Texas, 19-year-old Jacob Lavoro is anxiously awaiting lab results that will determine whether he is facing life imprisonment for making pot brownies. In a pretrial hearing Wednesday, Lavaro’s case was referred to a grand jury for indictment, which will hear the case in two weeks. This case has been used in recent months to point out the absurdity of marijuana sentencing, with many hoping that the publicity surrounding it may bring about significant reforms.
Lavaro was arrested in April after a pregnant neighbor complained to police that the smell of marijuana smoke coming from Lavaro‘s apartment made her sick. Police officers found approximately one and a half pounds of brownies made with hash oil in the apartment along with THC extract in the form of hash oil, $1,600 in cash and an apparent client list. Prosecutors initially charged Lavaro with possession of 1.5 pounds of an illegal drug with intent to sell — treating the brownies themselves as a controlled substance, instead of as the carrier of a controlled substance. This charge would have carried a penalty of 10 years to life in prison.
THC is the active chemical and principal hallucinogen in marijuana. Hash oil — which is made by exposing marijuana to a solvent — is a potent and concentrated carrier of THC. Edibles made with hash oil, such as pot brownies, are popular among THC users because they minimize the need to burn marijuana and inhale harsh or unpleasant smoke. Hash oil, due to its concentration and lack of plant matter, is in the same penalty group as ecstasy and amphetamines.
Although preliminary lab results showed that the actual amount of marijuana derivative in the brownies was 2.5 grams — or about two teaspoons — as the derivative was hash oil, prosecutors have the prerogative to use the batter weight of the brownies as the sentencing measurement.
Prosecutors assert that Lavoro intended to sell the brownies at $25 per square.
“If this was just some college kid experimenting in his friend’s Easy-Bake Oven, with a reefer’s worth of pot and a bunch of brownies, that’d be different,” said First Assistant District Attorney Mark Brunner to KVUE News. “This man was trying to run a business.”
Despite this, and due in part to the fact that the prosecutors intend to charge Lavaro with possession of the hash oil, the D.A.’s office has indicated a willingness to reduce the charges for the pot brownies. (This may have also been the result of a petition with over 243,000 signatures being delivered to the D.A.’s office demanding a reduction in charges.)
Lavaro is also asserting that the search of his apartment was illegal, as no one gave police permission to enter his residence. Round Rock police have stated that Lavaro’s girlfriend gave permission — an assertion Lavaro roundly denies.
In recent months, the question of “edibles” in the news has complicated the already difficult debate on marijuana criminalization. In Collegeville, Pennsylvania, two teenage boys were arrested in July for breaking into a home and baking brownies laced with an unspecified drug. In Yuba City, California, a high school student faces four years of probation and possible deportation after holding a pot brownie bake sale to pay for her prom dress.
Meanwhile, in Tacoma, Washington, a 45-year-old man is being charged with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance to a person under the age of 18 and reckless endangerment after giving his daughter hash oil in the form of THC coconut oil. His daughter would go on to use the oil in brownies and lemon bars she would later distribute in school.
It is estimated that one in every eight American prisoners convicted on a drug charge was initially arrested on a marijuana-related offense, with the FBI reporting that a marijuana arrest occurs once every 42 seconds in the United States. As the American prison system approaches fatal overcrowding and as the upswing in “War on Drugs” convictions drives drug sentencing — many for non-violent possession or use charges — the nation is facing a tipping point in how it chooses to deal with recreational drug use.
An example of the problem the nation faces is the case of Jeff Mizanskey of Missouri, who was sentenced in 1993 to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for possession of five pounds of marijuana. Though Mizanskey has never been charged with a violent crime, he was sentenced under Missouri’s version of the “three strikes” law — the “Prior and Persistent Drug Offenders Law.” Mizanskey is one of 21 individuals currently serving life sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenses in the U.S., according to Life for Pot.
“These are lifetime sentences for what, in other countries, they wouldn’t in a moment consider incarcerating anybody for,” Allen St. Pierre, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, told The Huffington Post. “Virtually nobody in Europe goes to jail for cannabis offenses. If they do, they have to be caught in large commercial operations, and repeat offenders.”
The question of the level of triviality edibles gives to drug use causes a backslide, however, in recognizing the excessiveness of current drug legislation. Though on the surface it’s hilarious and prone to ridicule, Maureen Dowd’s confession on how she “lay curled up in a hallucinatory state” for eight hours after eating too much of a marijuana-infused candy bar in Denver actually points to a true problem. Since Colorado legalized recreational drug use, the state’s emergency rooms have reported an uptick of children accidentally eating marijuana edibles. In April, a visiting college student jumped to his death from a Denver hotel balcony after eating marijuana-laced cookies around roughly the same time an Observatory Park man allegedly killed his wife after consuming painkillers and marijuana candy.
“There is still a novelty factor for some people,” said Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer of Colorado’s Dixie Elixirs and Edibles, to Slate concerning edibles. “You get a chocolate bar or cookie, and you don’t give it the respect it deserves. We want people to understand that this is something that demands respect.”