An All Too Familiar Story:

Marijuana Prohibition itself should be named Operation Chronic Problem ​

*In partnership with Emerald Media

This latest story we are sharing from Emerald Magazine tells of a case in 2011, but sadly even almost a decade later Marijuana Prohibition still harms lives and is a manipulative tool for law enforcement.  Nevada approved Medical Cannabis in 2001 and Legalization was passed in 2017, so in 2011, you wouldn’t think there would be the same problems today. It seems like the idea of organizing a sting operation to criminalize people trying to help medical cannabis patients wouldn’t be a thing a decade after Nevada approves medical cannabis, but it still does even today. You wouldn’t think people would be unjustly criminalized in Nevada after the state legalized it in 2017, but prohibition is still a tool that harms people’s lives. We could refer you to any one of Cruel Consequences many portrait stories as evidence that just having medical cannabis and even decriminalization efforts are not enough. But here are a few that come to mind because of similar traits to this story. Nevada? Read about both Jeff Krajnak and The McMinn couple, Joe and Ryanna. Manipulation of charges? Harry Kelso  Prosecuting advocates trying to help other cannabis patients because the system doesn’t? Dolores Halbin  Law enforcement posing as a suffering patient to take advantage of caring advocates? Jessica Andreavich Patients who want to avoid taking dangerous pharmaceuticals? Trenice Holley and Tyrone Matthews

This story about Katree Darriel Saunders, is all too familiar to marijuana advocates. We invite you to read about Saunders here, but we hope you question your assumptions about the future trajectory of marijuana law reform efforts and be part of the conversation to change the pace. On one hand it seems marijuana laws are improving at record speed, but not fast enough if people are still being targeted as public enemies in the War on Drugs decades later…for the same reasons.

– Tamara Netzel, Founder and Curator of Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law

Katree Darriel Saunders is a 30 year old mother, cannabis activist, and an active member of her community. Katree was living in Las Vegas, NV when she was arrested during a DEA sting called Operation Chronic Problem in 2011 on the charges of Conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish. For 10 grams of hashish and 3.5 grams of marijuana Katree has had her life as she knew it ended. This dedicated mother lost her family and job for trying to help. Trying to help what turned out to be a lying, conniving, scheming, weasel of a DEA Agent posing as a medical cannabis patient desperate for relief. This is Katree Darriel Saunders story. Her loss, her pain, and what many consider a major injustice as well as a violation of her constitutional rights.

Katree has been addicted off and on to prescription pain pills since the age of 15. In 2007, seeking pain relief from multiple car accidents, Katree Saunders became a medical cannabis patient. Knowing the harmful side effects of pharmaceuticals, plus their lack of effectiveness, Saunders chose medical cannabis. Not only did cannabis end Saunders’ pain, she was able to stop using prescription drugs all together. As a hardworking mother, Saunders put herself through college and became a positive and active member of her community.   Nevada’s laws prohibited the sale of cannabis in 2007, which forced Saunders to seek it through the  

black market, known for unsavory individuals who traffic anything from people to weapons to stolen merchandise. 

She contacted the state of Nevada and spoke with Jennifer Barlett, who referred her to Michael McAuliffe of Nevada’s Compassionate Care (NCC). It was there Saunders found her place. She began working with NCC and was helping others away from the black market.   

Things were going well for Saunders in February of 2010. She volunteered for a political event called Organizing America where President Barack Obama spoke about healthcare reform. Saunders was chosen to be on stage. She sat in the front row behind the president as he gave his speech. Upon the close, Katree was able to shake hands with the President. While doing so, Saunders said ‘We needed to talk about medical patient’s rights.’ Then, according to Saunders, Obama looked at her and said ‘I’m not prosecuting.’

Feeling confident and empowered after this Saunders then became active in helping patients obtain their medical cannabis cards from the Nevada state program. Unfortunately, while Saunders was working for NCC, she was set up by undercover DEA agents. They were conducting what was known as Operation Chronic Problem. A federal DEA agent posed as a sick patient asking for help obtaining medical cannabis.   

Saunders, being a compassionate person, facilitated this lying individual’s request. Later she was indicted on distribution of a controlled substance. Saunders served four months in prison as well as a lengthy probation since she did not offer up the names of her medical patients.

While on pretrial Saunders was in another motor vehicle accident. This accident totaled her husband’s vehicle

and left Saunders with a fractured foot as well as a back injury. She was placed on morphine, Xanax, and MARINOL®. The morphine began to make her heart hurt, so she opted to stop taking it in exchange for MARINOL®. MARINOL® is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring compound known as delta-9-THC. However, since Saunders was on probation, the state of Nevada told her that she could not take MARINOL® since they would not be able to determine if she was consuming cannabis or simply taking the medication.

The State of Nevada Probation Department obtained a court order preventing Saunder’s doctor from prescribing MARINOL® to her. Now, not only was Saunders in trouble for selling 3.5 grams of cannabis and 10 grams of hash, she also lost her job, family and right to medicate.    

During her incarceration, her husband divorced her, took the kids and moved away. While in custody at the prison, Saunders says she was ‘sexually assaulted and harassed by US Marshals’.

 

During Saunders’ trial, her attorneys advised her not to mention anything about her encounter with President Obama. For the 4 months Katree Saunders was incarcerated, the state split her time between a private prison corporation (Corrections Corporation of America – CCA) and a state prison, and earned a minimum of $5,000 for hosting her.  The state of Nevada spent an estimated $20,656 per inmate in 2012, and reported 267.9 million in costs. They also claimed to have 15 million dollars in prison related costs outside of the state budget. This is where states and private prison corporations make big dollars housing criminals. In the case of cannabis consumers, these corporations make out like bandits.     Imagine charging $21,000 a year to house someone who was busted selling or possessing cannabis.  In Saunders case, that 13.5 grams of cannabis, with a street value of $150, cost taxpayers over $20,000 to put her through the system. That doesn’t include the cost of the actual arrest, which stands at $1,500 to $3,500 with booking, paperwork, police officers fees, donuts, etc.

Saunders fought hard to break away from prescription drugs, but in the end they were her only option. Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, has been making billions off victims. Purdue Pharma is involved in countless lawsuits and their officials have admitted to deceitful and immoral medical practices, yet they are still making money. These are the ones that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks out about when he refers to the top one-tenth of 1%.

 

In 1993 the DEA allowed pharmaceutical companies to produce 3520 kilos of a drug known as oxycodone. Twenty-two years later they are manufacturing 137.5 thousand kilos of the same drug. That is an increase of 39 times in the manufacturing of this controlled substance. Since President Nixon founded the DEA in 1973, they have done nothing but prosecute those who attempt to possess, grow, or in any way affiliate themselves with cannabis.   

Medical cannabis helps millions of people across the United States and world to find relief from pain and suffering. Cannabis helped Saunders break her addiction and take back control of her life. Cannabis is a safe treatment alternative for many illnesses, as well as the management of symptoms associated with a broad array of medical complications. Prescription drug addiction, of course, is a problem that is not only plaguing the United States, but the whole world.      

Saunders’ battle with a prescription drug addiction from a young age illustrates the carelessness of the medical industry in allowing doctors to over-prescribe dangerous medications. It has also enabled them to receive substantial kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies in the process.

According to ABC News, America consumes over 90% of the world’s hydrocodone and 80 percent of the planet’s opioids. The United States of America makes up only 4.6 percent of the planet’s population. This opioid problem has destroyed mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. Children and soldiers suffer horrendously because of our country’s support for the pharmaceutical industry. Children suffer by being denied medication that could in fact actually help them, and at times even cure them. Children also suffer by losing parents who are consumed by prescription drug addiction.  Soldiers who protect our freedom, often with their own lives, suffer from illnesses such as PTSD. They are  sometimes denied a natural treatment, such as cannabis, to help with their symptoms.

The Doctors Enforcement Agency

The DEA licenses more than 600,000 surgeons, doctors, and podiatrists to administer prescriptions for narcotic pain relievers. According to NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), in 2011 there were an estimated 1.5 million registered medical cannabis patients living in the United States of America. The sad side of this is that the laws pertaining to medical cannabis forced so many to seek their medication on the black market.

The public seems to believe that we think cannabis is the new cure-all, and other medications should be eliminated. This is not true. Common sense will tell you that there are many medical advancements today which have led us to the most sophisticated and advanced techniques and cures.

During this evolution we have managed to de-evolve at the same time, through the abuse of prescription drugs, as much the fault of patients as it is the doctors doing the prescribing. Some individuals get prescription pain pills in large quantities because the doctors will prescribe them. Some individuals do not even take their medication. Instead they sell them on the street. When doctors prescribe as much as 100 to 300 pills at a time, with an average price of $10 a pill, some people can make an extra $3,000 a month.

Prohibition Has Failed and it’s Hurting America

The prohibition of cannabis that began in the late 1930s has devastated countless numbers of American lives and destroyed families across the country. The FDA will approve OxyContin for 6-year-olds but will not support cannabis oil. This is an absurd violation of human rights. The United States of America has held the patent for medical cannabis since 2003. This means that they knowingly have information that solidifies and validates medical cannabis as an effective treatment. This also means that the DEA and FDA know, and have evidence, that cannabis is medicine.

For the past 12 years the DEA has left cannabis as a schedule 1 narcotic. This puts it in the same class as heroin and cocaine, that it has no medicinal value. They have lied to the American people and kept the public sick, and now some laugh at us while the cannabis community is trying to change laws to better the world around us.                                          

The Dogs of the Feds

The DEA regularly raids medicinal cannabis facilities and Indian tribal lands. They arrest, abuse, neglect and destroy the lives of countless cannabis consumers. Medical patients and recreational consumers alike suffer the wrath of the DEA everyday. There are no public benefits from cannabis prohibition! The medicinal aspects combined with potential taxes are unquestionably positive. The simple implementation of taxation on cannabis will help to eliminate the black market. This puts a lot of politicians, local sheriffs, and other individuals out of extra income they have enjoyed for years.

Katree Saunders felt the wrath of the DEA during Operation Chronic Pain and now you know her story. From being hooked on prescription drugs at 15, to meeting the President of the United States, to prison, to an avid cannabis activist, Saunders’ struggle is all too familiar to many Americans, except for meeting Mr. Barack Obama.

Help support America by being a seed. One seed can tip the scales of injustice. Are you that seed?

*In partnership with Emerald Media

Emerald is a consumer-based media group that focuses on the modern cannabis lifestyle. Sustainability, Social Equity, Culture and the Normalization of Cannabis are key pillars of Emerald. The group delivers free digital content, podcasts, videos, newsletters and a print magazine. Find Emerald online or on Social Media at @theemerald.

Weed Privilege = White Privilege Still in New York Despite Decriminalization

*In partnership with Emerald Media

Can you smell it? Longtime residents of New York City have definitely noticed an uptick in the frequency of smelling herb around the city. The NYPD has reduced the amount of arrests for cannabis related charges, year after year, which are now likely to drop to a new low as cannabis enjoys its most-legal status yet.

According to NY1 News, there have been under 750 arrests in NYC during the first half of 2019. With new statewide decriminalization, the urge to celebrate would be an understandable response, but when you consider that 90% percent of these arrests are Black or Latinx New Yorkers, the revel turns to rage.

With New York State’s new rules going into effect, allowing not just New York City denizens (who have been under decrim since the 70s, not that it ever stopped enforcement) to possess and smoke up to two ounces of cannabis, how could even one arrest happen under our watch? 

If we’re too busy enjoying our own privilege to smoke—a sort of weed privilege—that only whiteness grants, that’s how. 

White Americans have always enjoyed more freedom to use drugs, and New York State has been no different. Ravaged by the opioid crisis, it’s clear that racist enforcement not only harms communities of color directly through violence, brutality, lost public aid, deportation, and harming families—it hurts the entire community by granting white people carte blanche to deal and consume.

Decriminalizing cannabis and expunging records is a start on the path to drug enforcement justice, but by no means is it a sign of true reform until there is no disparity in the criminal justice system, period.

 

Emerald is a consumer-based media group that focuses on the modern cannabis lifestyle. Sustainability, Social Equity, Culture and the Normalization of Cannabis are key pillars of Emerald. The group delivers free digital content, podcasts, videos, newsletters and a print magazine. Find Emerald online or on Social Media at @theemerald.

*In partnership with Emerald Media

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