By Kenneth Lipp
In several statements all to similar effect made during proceedings today at the federal courthouse for the Eastern District of PA, Judge Jacob Hart noted his own personal disagreement with laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana, while affirming his obligation to reach findings of guilt and issue sentences to those prove to have violated those laws.
In what was set to be the last round of hearings that resulted from arrests at Independence National Historic site during Smokedown Prohibition events (except one notable case against activists Chris Goldstein and Don Dezarn that has been continued to January 23rd), Judge Hart levied $175 fines for possession of a controlled substance against Smokedown participants Mike Whiter and Richard (known as Kyle) Prouty. In doing so, the judge made clear in both cases that he was issuing the findings of guilt despite what he acknowledged was both a personally and popularly objectionable criminal prohibition of marijuana.
Both Mr. Prouty and Mr. Whiter pleaded nolo contendre to the misdemeanor possession charges, compelling the prosecution to present its evidence in both cases. Whiter, a Marine veteran of two foreign combat theaters who was seriously injured in Iraq, asked and was allowed to make a statement to the court prior to his sentencing.
The retired Staff Sergeant spoke passionately for several minutes, recounting his own life-threatening struggle with PTSD, for which Veterans Affairs prescribed pharmaceuticals which only ended up excacerbating his difficulty rejoining society at home, saying at one point that had he not made the decision to try marijuana as a remedy, the FDA-approved pills he was taking would have surely killed him. Judge Hart found Mr. Whiter guilty, reasserting his role as guardian of the law, even laws which he “quite frankly doesn’t agree with.”