October 5, 2004
Letters To the Editor
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20071
Dear Sir or Madam:
In the nearly 35 years that our organization has been fighting to end marijuana prohibition, and to stop the senseless arrest of marijuana smokers, I have never witnessed a more tragic example of the need to repeal these destructive laws than that of Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old Mitchellville man who was recently sentenced to 10 days in the DC jail for marijuana possession. Magbie, a quadriplegic since age 4 when he was struck by a drunk driver, operated his motorized wheelchair with his chin. He was otherwise totally dependent on others for his care.
According to the Post report, when asked by the court's pre-sentence investigators about his marijuana smoking, Magbie said he would continue using the drug because it made him feel better. Apparently that honesty was too much for Judge Judith E. Retchin, who proceeded to ignore the presentence report recommending probation, a recommendation to which the US Attorney's Office had not objected, and to impose a 10-day jail sentence on this terribly handicapped individual, apparently to teach him a lesson.
The lesson for all of us , though not the one intended by this apparently uncaring judge, was that even a few days in the DC jail system can be a death sentence for those with serious medical problems. Jonathan Magbie died from unexplained causes, currently under investigation, but it is clear that his death was the result of his being sent to jail by Judge Retchin.
According to the latest government surveys, at least 27 million Americans smoked marijuana last year, and most of them did it for the same reason that Jonathan Magbie did: because it made them feel better. Marijuana is a safe drug, when used responsibly, and unlike alcohol. that results in approximately 50,000 deaths each year in this country, and tobacco, which results in more than 400,00 deaths each year, marijuana has never caused a death in the history of mankind. It is simply not sufficiently toxic. Yet alcohol and tobacco are legal, while marijuana remains classified as a dangerous drug, and more than 600,000 Americans are arrested each year for smoking it.
Surely this tragic incident will cause the DC City Council to consider decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses in the District. Until that can be accomplished, perhaps this tragedy will cause the DC Police to consider issuing tickets to minor marijuana offenders, as Mayor Daly has recently suggested for Chicago, instead of arresting and jailing smokers. A ticket would have saved Magbie's life.
This is truly a sad time for all of us, and especially for the family and friends of Jonathan Magbie. He did not deserve to die for smoking marijuana.
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)