I was invited to speak last week to members of the Boone County Bar Association about the civil liberties implications of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of last year.
During months of secret Grand Jury hearings, St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, and his assistants repeatedly told jurors that Michael Brown’s use of marijuana might be the reason why an unarmed 18 year old would attack a police officer, charging head first into a barrage of bullets, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported on November 28 of last year. An autopsy on Brown’s body showed inactive metabolites of marijuana but did not show that he was under the influence of marijuana when he was killed. According to the Post, while St. Louis County police officers were investigating the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, they were told by two construction workers who witnessed the shooting that they had spoken to Brown shortly before he was shot. One of those workers told the police that he made an offhand remark that Michael should try “waxing”, meaning that he should try smoking a concentrated form of cannabis known as wax.
Based solely on that reported remark, prosecutors proceeded to suggest to Grand Jurors that Michael had indeed been consuming not just marijuana, but “wax”, which they told jurors might account for Michael’s otherwise irrational and totally uncharacteristic alleged behavior.
This absurd premise became a theme of McCulloch’s office in their efforts to persuade the Grand Jury that Officer Wilson should not be indicted for any criminal offense based on his killing of Michael Brown.
This kind of reefer madness echoes the outrageous claims made by prohibitionists in the 1920’s and 1930’s, especially in regard to the use of cannabis by African-Americans.