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Wednesday June 28, 2017

By Abby Hutmacher


Jury nullification has been around for centuries as a means of protecting the people from oppressive law. Intended to keep power in the hands of the people instead of a tyrannical government, jury nullification allows citizens (specifically, a jury of one’s peers) to decline a guilty verdict despite evidence proving otherwise.

Beginning as a demand for freedom of religion back in the 17th century, jury nullification has given American citizens the power to reject laws they felt were unjust. Jury nullification ended the Salem Witch Trials, helped protect those aiding in the escape of slaves, restricted capital punishment, helped end alcohol prohibition and paved the way toward union rights.

Nullifying Cannabis Charges in Court

Though many people disagree with the cannabis laws in their state, most are unfamiliar with the power they have to change them.

Because judges are not required to disclose any information about nullification (in some cases telling the jury to only rule on the facts of the case and not the justness of the law), many jurors are unaware of the option to nullify a case. This unfortunately leaves civilians feeling powerless when, in fact, they have more control over these laws than they think.

One popular example of this occurred when Ed Rosenthal, horticulturist, author and High Times columnist was arrested for cannabis cultivation in Oregon. Though the judge cut off the defense attorney before he was able to hint at a possible nullification (resulting in a subsequent conviction), some jurors renounced their verdict upon hearing about the nullification option – and the fact that he’d been sanctioned by the city of Oakland to grow the stuff – forcing the 9th Circuit Appeals Court to repeal the conviction.

A few years ago, a jury successfully nullified charges against 59-year-old Doug Darrell who had been caught growing cannabis in his back yard for both medical and religious reasons. Thanks to a jury headed by Cathleen Converse of the Free State Project (and her knowledge of nullification), the jury understood the nullification process and chose to enter a ”not guilty” verdict despite the evidence.

Taking Back Power

The ability of a jury to nullify a court case is one major way the American people maintain their freedom. But because it is infrequently (or never) discussed, many people don’t realize just how powerful the American people are. That’s why it’s important to take back that power then use it to reinforce just laws and do away with unjust ones.

Jury nullifications go all the way back to our founding fathers who created provisions to protect us from a tyrannical government like the one they’d left behind. This goes well beyond our right to bear arms (which excludes medical marijuana cardholders but that’s a discussion for another time) which includes freedom of speech and the right to protest. Indeed, the power is in our hands, but it’s up to us to understand what that power is and how to use it.

Don't be fooled by the judge, you have more rights than you think! Don't be fooled by the judge, you have more rights than you think! photo credit

So, what can you do to promote jury nullification and take control of unjust cannabis laws in America? Here are a few simple tips to get you started.

  • Learn as much as we can about cannabis – legal, health, political, etc.

    – to help you understand where you stand on the issue. Don’t be afraid to change your stance based on the information you receive, but stand firm enough to encourage others to follow your lead.
  • Check all information against credible sources to make sure you understand fact from fiction

    – there’s a lot of conflicting information out there so it can be hard to understand what is and is not accurate. This includes understanding the motivation behind the source’s stance as many “reliable” people can still have backwards views on cannabis, especially if doing so helps line their wallets.
  • Share what you know with your peers, co-workers, family members or even the lady in line in front of you at the store.

    Just get the message out there. Provide as much back-up information as possible along with sources when appropriate. Don’t leave the impression that your opinion is based solely on what you want to believe; give your audience a clear understanding of why you feel the way you do about cannabis.
  • Become a juror: If you’re legally eligible to be a juror, do it!

    Whether you’ll be delegating on a cannabis case or not, this will be an experience worth remembering, giving you the opportunity to not only see the justice system in action, but to be a part of it, too! Plus, if it is a cannabis case, you can help pave the way toward reform in your area just by entering a “not guilty” verdict.

15 years ago, people laughed at the notion that cannabis may become legal in the future and yet, here we are, waist-deep in the throngs of nation-wide cannabis reform. It seems the most people no longer buy into the “reefer madness” hullabaloo and instead are turning into a more compassionate breed (at least in terms of cannabis use) which is especially evident given the recent trend of jury nullifications for cannabis-related crimes. If the trend continues, then law makers and enforcers will have no other option than to abide by the will of the people and legalize cannabis nationwide.

Do you think jury nullification is an important part of American freedom? Why or why not?

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz (license)


Abby Hutmacher Abby Hutmacher

Abby is a writer and founder of Cannabis Content, a marketplace designed to connect cannabis writers and creatives with businesses in the industry. She has been a professional cannabis writer since 2014 and regularly contributes to publications such as PotGuide and M&F Talent. She is also the Content Director at Fortuna Hemp, America’s leading feminized hemp seed bank. Follow Abby on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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