The 5 worst pot busts in history
Horrifying stories of people getting killed and serving time.
Everyday pot busts are bad enough.
The criminalization of marijuana has been incredibly destructive to American society.
The cost of aggressively enforcing pointless laws can be measured in dollars. The cost can be measured in years of needless time served behind bars. And the cost can be measured in the lives damaged or destroyed, not by marijuana itself, but by the uninformed laws against it. Clearly, the most dangerous thing about smoking pot in non-legal states is simply getting caught with it.
But the very worst pot busts stand out from the crowd when it comes to sheer injustice. These maddening stories of people’s lives being destroyed—of people being locked away for decades—will continue until cannabis is legal everywhere.
Here are the 5 worst pot busts in history.
1. Levonia Riggins: Killed for 2 Grams
In 2016, deputies raided the Florida home of Levonia Riggins, 22, who’d been under investigation for a month. Deputy Caleb Johnson led a SWAT team into the home and cornered Riggins in a bedroom.
The deputy claims he “perceived [Riggins] as a threat” and shot him. Riggins was unarmed. Two grams of weed were found on his dead body.
“He was always a good person,” a friend said of Riggins. “Yeah, he smokes his weed and stuff, but he was never into anything serious.”
The deputy who killed Riggins got a paid leave.
2. Jonathan Magbie: Died in Jail for a Joint
The maddening tragedy of Jonathan Magbie is one of the saddest and worst pot busts in U.S. history. Magbie was paralyzed from the neck down after being hit by a drunk driver at the age of four. He was charged with marijuana possession in 2004, after cops found a joint and a loaded gun inside a vehicle in which he was a passenger.
Magbie, 27, had never been convicted of a criminal offense. He required 20 hours of medical assistance a day. Despite this, a judge sentenced him to 10 days in a D.C. jail. With inadequate medical care and no ventilator to sustain his breathing, Jonathan died in jail four days later.
3. Tom Crosslin and Rollie Rohm: Death on Rainbow Farm
Tom Crosslin and his life partner, Rolland “Rollie” Rohm, had a dream. They bought the property for Rainbow Farm in Vandalia, Michigan and founded a pro-marijuana campground.
Starting in 1996, they began holding annual hemp festivals. Guests included Tommy Chong, Merle Haggard, and NORML representatives. In 1999 and 2000, Rainbow Farm campaigned for a failed measure that would have legalized the private use of cannabis. The festivals from 1996 to 2001 made Rainbow Farm a center of cannabis activism in Michigan.
In April 2001, Rainbow Farm was blamed for the death of a teenager killed when his car crashed into a school bus. Early on the morning of May 9, about 30 state police officers raided the farm. They found more than 200 marijuana plants, setting the stage for one of the worst pot busts. Crosslin and Rohm were arrested on felony growing and weapons charges. Rollie’s son was taken into foster care. Crosslin was facing 20 years in prison, and the state moved to seize Rainbow Farm under civil asset forfeiture proceedings. Crosslin publicly violated his bail agreement by announcing he’d hold another hemp festival.
In August 2001, Crosslin and Rohm failed to appear in court. Neighbors reported they were burning buildings on their property. State police and FBI agents surrounded the property on August 31, and a siege began. On September 3, Crosslin walked into the woods on his farm, and spotted an FBI agent lying on the ground. The agent shot him five times in the head and three times in the torso, killing him instantly.
Rohm asked that his son be brought to see him and told police he’d surrender at 7 a.m. Shortly after 6 a.m., while walking outside the house, Rohm was shot dead by a police marksman. Rainbow Farm remains one of the worst pot busts in history.
4. John Knock: Two Life Sentences Plus 20 Years
John Knock was allegedly involved in marijuana trafficking from Pakistan and Lebanon to the United States and Canada in the mid-1990s. He was living in Hawaii in 1994 when he got extradited to Florida—where he’d never lived—to face charges related to a reverse sting operation.
Knock was charged because of his alleged connection to an indicted San Francisco smuggler. The only evidence against him was the testimony of informants who sought to reduce their own sentences.
Knock, now 71, was sentenced in 2000 following a trial. He was a first time offender with no history of violence or drug abuse, according to his sister, Beth Curtis. “There’s no logic to it,” Curtis said. “It’s a cruel kind of conflict.”
Curtis founded LifeForPot.com in 2010 to bring attention to some of the worst pot busts, including her brother’s case and that of similar inmates.
5. Mark Young: Life In Prison for Being a Middleman
Mark Young got caught up in one of the worst pot busts even though he was never caught touching the plant himself. Young introduced people looking to sell weed to other people who wanted to buy.
In 1991, a year and a half after facilitating a deal, Young was arrested at his Indianapolis home. Police produced no physical evidence, making it one of the worst pot busts. The testimony of co-conspirators—who were, themselves, looking for lighter sentences—was the only evidence against him.
In 1992, Young was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He had never been charged with dealing drugs and had no history of violent crime. He never handled either the marijuana or the money.