In upholding marijuana bust, court references 'South Park,' 'Cheech & Chong'

By Balzafire · Jul 24, 2010 ·
  1. Balzafire
    Footnotes in ruling by the state's highest court explain pop culture references
    The marijuana smoke filled the Baltimore rowhouse in a "haze" that "engulfed" the four people sitting around the kitchen table, all of them within arm's reach of the smoldering remains of a "blunt" in an ashtray.

    One of the men appeared "groovy" and "relaxed" and was "just going with the program."

    It was, the state's highest court said in a ruling issued Friday, "reminiscent of a scene from a Cheech & Chong movie."

    Baltimore police had burst into the Lanvale Street rowhouse on Dec. 6, 2006, and arrested the men at the table, including Clavon Smith, who police said also had 15 small bags of marijuana in the pocket of his black leather jacket, which was hanging from the back of a chair.

    Smith challenged his conviction and the 60 days he spent in jail for marijuana possession, saying the police couldn't prove that the joint at the table and the drugs in his jacket belonged to him. A majority of Court of Appeals judges disagreed and upheld the conviction. Two judges dissented.

    Though replete with the requisite legalese and Latin phrases, the high-court judges managed to break free from their scholarly restraints to reference the 1970s hippie drug scene and draw comparisons to pop culture icons who challenged conformity and societal norms.

    Writing for the majority, Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. referenced Cheech & Chong.

    In his dissent, Judge Clayton Greene Jr. quoted Mr. Mackey from "South Park."

    And both judges felt it necessary to include footnotes explaining their references.

    In a space usually reserved for defining arcane legal verse, Harrell took pains to describe Cheech & Chong, noting the popular series of movies that began with "Up in Smoke" in 1978 and "portrayed recreational drug use in non-threatening situations."

    Greene countered with the more up-to-date "South Park" reference, penning that in the "immortal words of Mr. Mackey, 'Drugs are bad.' "

    He used his footnote to put the quote into full context, and it's most likely the first time an opinion from the state's highest court has included the phrase, "It's a bad thing to do drugs, so don't be bad by doing drugs, m'kay, that'd be bad."

    Smith's attorney had argued that the police did not prove his client knew about the drugs in his jacket, and that "his presence at the table was not sufficient to prove that he exercised dominion or control over the blunt." (The judges used another footnote to define "blunt" as "a popular term for a marijuana cigar" and even provide instructions on how to make one.)

    Harell wrote that Smith "was in close proximity to the known marijuana in the blunt" and that "it was reasonable to infer from the circumstances that he was engaging in the mutual use and enjoyment of the marijuana."

    Greene disagreed, writing that concluding that Smith smoked marijuana without more proof was "conjecture" and that the "mere knowledge of the presence of contraband is not a substitute for participation in the use and enjoyment of that substance."

    The judge wrote: "Ordinarily people are taught from a tender age, just because an object is within one's grasp does not mean … that the object belongs to that person."

    Greene ended his dissent with a reference to "South Park," writing that "although in the immortal words of Mr. Mackey, 'drugs are bad,' the law imposes no legal duty, as opposed to moral duty, to stop others from using drugs, or to run away from people who are using drugs."

    By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun July 23, 2010

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