Canvassing for Opinion - aka "Blairs Brain on Cannabis"

IMHO prohibition sentiment requires inherent addiction to status quo, an incapacity to visualise beyond the here and now and a desperate desire to know others might feel the same... Reform is not revolutionary, rather it is evolutionary. Having survived banging your head against a brick wall the evolutionist relishes having stopped. / Blair

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Personal appeal for letters of support

(Gregory is a fellow director of
His son is studying at Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand / Blair)

Fellow Common Sense Drug Law Activists

I hope all will forgive me for taking the liberty of posting a personal appeal on this list. I promise that I won't be making a regular habit of it. But today I find myself in a real "situation," more than a little bit scared and much in need of support from my friends in the activist community. Tangible support, if at all possible, in the form of letters to our County Prosecutor and District Judge.

As you may already be aware, I was previously employed as an Elementary/Middle School Counselor in a small, very rural, very conservative school district. At the same time I had been a long time, high profile common sense drug law reform activist. Not surprisingly my political activism created a certain amount of friction between myself and the school administration. Over the years I had occasion to discuss the matter with my principals and superintendent. While they were not wildly enthusiastic about my activities I believe that over time I had at least earned their begrudging respect for the sincerity, logic and passion of my beliefs. We had been able to maintain an uneasy peace on the matter.

Last school year (2004-05) I was re-assigned part time to a newly constructed and newly staffed middle school. My new principal--a first time principal trying to put together a brand new staff in a new building--was grossly offended by my political activities--to her mind, anyone who questioned the War on Drugs, Inc orthodoxy obviously wanted to give crack to Kindergarteners with their morning milk. There simply was no middle ground with that woman. She embarked on a campaign of low level harassment and micro-managing my time and energies--nothing every teacher hasn't personally experienced or at least seen go on between professional staff & administration at one time or another. Goes with the territory of public education, I just tried to put up with it. But I did get an awfully big belly full of it after awhile.

On May 2nd, 2005 I was pulled out of the classroom and told that a private drug dog had alerted to my truck. Again. I say "again" because the drug dog always alerted to my truck. How convenient. And every time I would consent to a search. Only the first time was anything ever found--a dirty cup inside a trash bag which in turn was inside a whole box full of trash on the seat. It held the dregs of a bottle of home brewed hard cider, 2 oz or about 60 ml if I did the math correctly, of dead yeast, sludge and solids that accumulate in the bottom of home brewed beverages. Got 3 days unpaid suspension--first time in my life I'd ever been suspended from school, btw--for that transgression. After that I was scrupulous about never allowing any contraband or even dirty returnable beer bottles in my truck. Despite those precautions for some odd reason every time the school would conduct a sweep of the school, the dog would alert to my truck. Every time I would consent to the search. And every time the search would come up empty. Correctly or incorrectly, I had the distinct impression I was being targeted for special attention and call it galloping paranoia but I ascribed that to a consequence of my activities advocating for sensible drug policy. Maybe because the end of a particularly difficult school year was drawing to an end. Maybe I had just had a belly full of it. Whatever the reason, rather than just rolling over again, surrendering one more bit of my privacy and liberty and self esteem and just taking the easy way out, this time I refused consent. A 2 1/2 hour stand-off ensued.

I politely but firmly refused consent to allow a search. I respectfully demanded a warrant be secured prior to any search. I also knew that a dog alert from a private handler was not sufficient to establish Probable Cause, hence they couldn't get a warrant on the private drug dog alert alone. It took bringing in a second dog from a neighboring county's sheriff's dept which also mysteriously alerted to my truck--but only after the deputy damned near kicked it in the ass to get it to pay the slightest bit of attention to my truck. When first brought to the truck the second dog showed no interest whatsoever. But when the dog then changed its mind and "alerted" to my truck after all, I was ordered to surrender my keys and submit to the search.

As would be expected, after putting them through all that, the search was thorough. After pulling all sorts of boxes, coats, farm tools and garbage out and strewing it about the pavement, the fruits of the search were as follows:
  • 1 green twig, approx 1 1/2" in length (~4cm). Just a twig, no leaf, no bud, no glands. The cops said it was a cannabis stem. I said it was either hops or alfalfa hay--I own a farm and grow both so the presence of either would not be unusual.<>
  • <>1 charred piece of cigarette paper, approx half the size of the nail on my little finger. Nothing inside the paper, just the scrap of burned paper itself. The cops said it was an mj roach, I said it was the butt of one of my 24 year old son's hand rolled tobacco cigarettes.

These two bits of "evidence" were duly bagged, tagged and sent off to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab for analysis.

I was then told to return to my normal duties and go about my business as though nothing had happened, pending lab results. I felt it much more prudent--for my own mental equilibrium as well as the safety of my students--to immediately go on medical leave. After a couple weeks of to-ing and fro-ing the superintendent gave me the option of resigning or being fired. The lab results were not back yet but in the interim, the school's attorneys had done some digging and discovered that I had been convicted of "attempted use of MJ," in 1989, a fact I had neglected to mention when I applied for the job in 1999. Hadn't mentioned it because I thought it was supposed to have been expunged after completing the terms of my sentence ($50 fine and no further police contact for a year). Turns out that it had not been expunged after all, so I was still carrying around the label, "Drug Criminal." Interestingly enough, this old conviction had shown up on the Michigan State Police criminal background check the school did on me when I was hired but at the time the administration hadn't been sufficiently alarmed by the original conviction or my failure to disclose it to put them off from hiring me. They had been sitting on this for 5 years with the full knowledge they could always pull this out and whale me over the head with it if neccissary.

Anyway, I decided to just take the easy way and resign. I was pretty sour on the district anyway and school counselors are a high demand specialty here in Michigan. I figured I could find another post easy enough. The school district really just wanted me to go away quietly. The superintendent told the MEA (union) Uni-Serve Director for this part of the state that they didn't want any, "scandal." Ya, imagine if this had hit the papers, eh? "School Counselor nabbed with a tooth pick sized green stick and a charred fragment inside parked, locked truck. Could he be a dealer?" So the deal was, if I resigned they would allow me to remain on paid medical leave for the remainder of the contract year. And that the school would exert any power they had with the County Prosecutor to head off criminal charges related to the seizures from my truck. Not that the school gave a rat's ass about me, they just wanted me to go away and really didn't want it showing up in the paper.

As far as I was concerned, that was the end of that. I resigned. A week or so late the lab results came back. A morphological exam of the stem was presumptive for cannabis. The lab report made no mention of the charred bit of paper, nor has there ever been since. By all appearances it has simply evaporated. At the time I really questioned the "presumptive" cannabis determination--a stripped stem alone is not enough to make a conclusive identification of cannabis.
But as far as I was concerned the point was moot. I had resigned and was moving on. In early July I was arrested and charged with a 4 yr felony for a "Drug Free School Zone, second offense," violation. I ended up spending a weekend in jail, another first for me. I was held on a $5,000 cash bond--no 10% surety, they wanted 5,000 hard, cold, cash dollars. So there I sat all weekend watching a steady parade of wife beaters, meth cooks and previous absconders come and go on bonds ranging from $100 to $500. Obviously I, an accused marijuana criminal, posed a greater risk to the community than someone brandishing a handgun in a tavern.

The outpouring of support from MI-NORML was overwhelming; a dozen members and fellow travelers showed up on very short notice just for my arraignment. The court did notice. A couple weeks later I went in for my first hearing. The prosecutor offered to accept a plea to misdemeanor simple possession. I declined--said I wanted this farce ended and all charges dropped or to go to a full jury trial on the original felony charge. I simply did not believe a jury given the evidence--a 1 1/2 inch green twig and nothing more--would go along with sending me to state penitentiary for 4 years. Besides, we've all heard it a hundred times from the drug war cheerleaders, nobody in this country goes to prison for simple possession of MJ. Do they? .

Late in August, I showed up for a Preliminary Hearing on the felony charge. At that time the County Prosecutor informed my attorney that the charge was being reduced to a misdeamenor, simple possession. I could still have my jury trial since I was refusing to be reasonable and take the plea bargain, but they had decided not to press for the Drug Free School Zone felony. Good news I suppose but still and all I couldn't help but reflect on the coincidence of the timing--the new school year had just begun the previous week and with a drug felony charge hanging over me all summer, I was barred by state law from even being considered for employment elsewhere. Now--a week after school had begun--I could begin my job search.

In late November I had another hearing. This one was to consider a Motion to Suppress Evidence. The search itself was clearly illegal and I was detained at least 1 1/2 to 2 hours in the back of a police car until they could get up enough nerve to go ahead and search my truck despite my well articulated (and well documented in each of their individual incident reports) refusal to give consent. They never did get a warrant, btw. You know, I really thought it was a slam dunk, that the circumstances of the search were so obviously illegal and my detention so patently excessive that the evidence would be thrown out and this entire thing would be over. In other words, and in all candor, I really didn't take it seriously.

That was a mistake. I did not line up any support. I did not take people up on their previous offers to write letters. I didn't ask any one or even my wife to come to court as a show of support. The only person in the gallery was a homeless guy, come in off the street to warm up. The hearing did not go my way. The judge ruled (I believe wrongly) that the initial dog alert did establish Probable Cause. This despite the fact that the handler testified that there had been several other alerts to staff vehicles that day and a search of each came up blank AND that the dog was trained to alert not just to illegal drugs but also to gun powder residues (I live in the country, I farm and I hunt wild game. There was a box of shot gun shells in the glove box, something really not that unusual out here in the sticks). The handler also admitted that the dog would alert to prescription meds and even dirty beer bottles. All perfectly legal products for me, an adult, to have in my locked truck, parked in a school lot. The judge ruled Probable Cause had been established despite the fact that even the cops had admitted on the stand that they had to bring in a second dog specifically because private dog alerts do not establish Probable Cause. But the judge decided the first dog alert established Probable Cause anyway.

The judge also ruled that my detention in the back of the cop car was not only voluntary but was done as a favor to me. See, it was cold that day, temps hovering around 40 F/5C and blustery. So the cops were just being nice by telling me to sit in the back of the cop car for an hour and a half and in full view of classroom windows rather than letting me go back into the (heated) school building. I guess I'm just an ingrate for not appreciating their concern for my comfort.

I am now scheduled to go to trial on Jan 19th. It may be too late, but I really need a visible show of support. For those living in Michigan or northern Indiana, the trail will be in 7th District Court, 1007 Wells Street, South Haven. If anyone is able to make the trip, just your presence in the courtroom will send a strong message. As an added bonus, an after party is scheduled at the Willow Ranch that evening. Hopefully it will be a victory celebration but either way I can promise a good time with lots of home brew and good fellowship. Maybe Tim B can even take us over to view his new holdings--he's a land owner in Van Buren County now (welcome to the neighborhood, Tim. Just don't tell anybody you're a weekender from "the city." The most popular bumper sticker around here last summer was, "If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?")

For those unable to make the trip, I could really use letters of support. Well, not letters sent to me. Letters sent to the Prosecutor and the Judge, copies to my attorney. I would hope that any letters be polite and to the point (optimally 1 page, 2 max) but I'm not picky either. The real point here is to make the court aware that whatever they do to me they do it in the glare of full light. Getting a stack of letters from around the US, Canada and even N.Z. & OZ, Asia and Europe should send the message clearly enough. And not unrealistic given the fact we have members of this list spread all around the globe.

Suggested tacks letters might take:

* Waste of time and resources. It took 5 police officers and a dog (plus an additional dog handler and her dog) to search my truck. Two more officers to drive out to my farm to arrest me in July. I got to enjoy the county's hospitality in the Gray Bar Hotel for a weekend. At least two prosecutors, plus their support staff have worked on this. An arraignment, one hearing to waive my Preliminary Hearing and another to have the charges dropped from a felony to a misdemeanor-each of which required the time of a judge, a clerk, a prosecutor, various support personnel as well as a courtroom. Last week's hearing tied up 3 cops, a judge, a clerk and the courtroom for an entire afternoon. The upcoming trial will waste still more people's time and county resources. For a 5 cm long stem.

* Why is the county so intent on prosecuting this when even the school district has asked them not to? What purpose is served?

* Prosecuting this matter, in light of the paucity of actual evidence, is a transparent attempt to retaliate against me for not consenting to the search as well as an effort to punish me for my political activities and suppress future activities.

* Just being arrested and charged with this heinous crime has already cost me my job, my standing in the community and put my professional career on hold. My pension is also kaput now--I was just short of the 10 yr minimum necessary to be vested. What more does the county want? Haven't I been punished enough?

* I also think it worth pointing out that this is all taking place in the same district court (different judge) that declined to prosecute Pat Conroy a year and a half ago. To refresh memories, Conroy was Vice Principal of L.C. Mohr (South Haven) Public H.S. There was a student that Conroy knew was dealing at school but he just couldn't catch the kid. So, following the example set by the Mad Cowboy himself--you know who the evil doer is but no matter how hard you try, you just can't seem to dig up any solid evidence--Conroy simply made up his own own "proof." He planted a bag of pot in the kid's locker and then called in the South Haven Police drug dog for a "random" search. When the dog didn't alert Conroy went back later and removed the pot. Then a couple months later he bragged about what he had done to the dog handler when they happened to run into each other at a school basketball game. A subsequent search of his school office turned up several "packages" of mj, amounting to "somewhat less" than one ounce total. Conroy was charged but charges were later dropped on the grounds a) the cop he was bragging to didn't stop him when he started talking about it so all his statements were suppressed and b) since the dog never alerted, the kid was never harmed. Essentially, no harm, no foul. Conroy meant well and his actions were in pursuit of a higher good. Conroy was given a free pass after being caught with actual mj in his school office, not just a stem that may or may not be cannabis, AND after making no bones of the fact that his intent was to harm a student whereas no one can say any student was harmed (or even aware) by the contents of my parked, locked truck. Certainly no intent to cause harm to a student. I probably sound like one of my own students here but that just does not seem fair. Actual copies of the police reports about the Conroy incident can be found at:

My case # is: 0500883 and my full name is: Gregory Dale Francisco.
Please include those references in any correspondence. Letters may be sent to:

Cory Johnson
Assistant Prosecutor, Van Buren County
1007 Wells St
PO Box 311
South Haven, MI 49090

Judge Arthur Clarke III
7th District Court
1007 Wells St
PO Box 311
South Haven, MI 49090

Please send a copy to:
Attorney Roman Plaszczak
Suite #1
181 West Michigan Ave
Paw Paw, MI 49079

I truly appreciate any help fellow travelers can give me in this matter.
Greg Francisco
32323 M-43
Paw Paw, MI 49079 USA
(269) 628-4340

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