Court documents from a case dating back to March 2017 have come to light, showing how police arrested a 22-year-old man for selling cannabis in Colorado. On the night of March 9 Springfield, Missouri’s special response team, a tactical police outfit, surround Aaron Blankenship’s home. The ensuing raid turned up $49,000 in cash and a small cache of weapons and ammunition. Police say they also found cannabis in Blankenship’s home. After his arraignment, Blankenship was released on bail but required to wear an ankle monitor and remain under house arrest until his sentencing. He arrived in court on Friday, where a judge sentenced him to 30 days in the Greene County Jail.
For dozens of times, 22-year-old Aaron Blankenship would drive more than 600 miles from Springfield, Missouri, through Kansas, to retail cannabis shops close to the eastern border of Colorado. In Colorado, he would buy a few pounds of flower for about $1,500 per pound. And when he got back to Missouri, he would sell it for around $2,500 per pound.
In the case against Blankenship, prosecutor Zach McFarland described the young man as a “pound-level dealer,” “armed to the teeth” at the time of his arrest at his home, just 1,000 feet from a Springfield elementary school. Before his sentencing, Blankenship described himself as “paranoid” and always feeling unsafe. The young man’s defense attorney, Adam Woody, said Blankenship was in over his head, according to Springfield News-Leader.
Since his arrest, Blankenship says he has turned his life around. He has a job and has had no subsequent encounters with law enforcement. As such, Woody requested the judge suspend the imposition of Blankenship’s sentence, to keep the felony conviction off his record. Weighing Blankenship’s youth against the serious weight he was moving, the judge in the case sentenced Blankenship to 30 days jail. The prosecutor had requested 120 days in prison.
On election day this November, Missouri voters will have the chance to join the 30 other states (and D.C. and U.S. territories) that have legalized cannabis in some form. And based on the latest polling data, it looks like Missouri will vote yes on Amendment 2 to allow the physician-recommended use of marijuana. In fact, there will be three medical marijuana measures on the ballot. Voters will have to choose one or none of them. But according to advocacy group NORML, only Amendment 2 puts the priorities of patients first.
Furthermore, the language NORML uses is important. They say, “allow physician-recommended use” instead of “legalize,” and that matters. Often, the word “legalize” is shorthand for complex statutory and constitutional frameworks that both allow and restrict access to cannabis. And the case of Blankenship and so many others like him who are not often so lucky as to be able to afford bail and appeal for leniency, highlights the difference between laws that “allow” and laws that legalize. Is it possible to think of cannabis as “legal,” when people are still facing criminal consequences for it? We think not.