It still remains true, the biggest danger of cannabis is the illegal status. Why should people care? Because people continue to face incarceration and thousands in fines over what amounts to a few crumbly bits of plant matter in their pocket. A homeless man spent 2 days in a cell over £1.70 worth of cannabis.
Stuck in a cell over a joint
Shane McCartney, 31, was arrested on Tuesday, July 26th. He spent 2 days in a holding cell before being able to see a judge. He voiced his frustration in the middle of the proceedings at Exeter Magistrates Court, which only irritated the judge.
This is laughable! I’ve been in a cell for days, it’s pathetic.
McCartney got so fed up with the solicitor appointed to him, he told her to “Stop sticking her oar in”, as she advised the bench of magistrates.
Pity isn’t cheap
The bench took pity on the homeless McCartney, of a sort. They waived the £50 fine after he admitted possession of drugs, due to his time spent in custody. This might seem reasonable until you realize that McCartney remains liable to the court for £1,500 in outstanding court fees.
So because a homeless man had a joint, he now owes the court £1,500. And if he fails to pay the ordered sum, like so many others he faces jail anyway.
The loophole allowing debtor’s prison
Debtor’s prisons were outlawed a long time ago. The entire concept of putting someone in jail and indeed forced labor as well to pay off a debt seems like cruel and unusual punishment to us today. But the practice remains alive and well due to a legal loophole. This loophole gets enforced far more than anyone would care to admit.
A court orders you to pay a sum, be it in fines, court costs, etc. They cannot throw you in jail for being unable to pay. But they can throw you in jail for failing to follow an order of the court.
The poor affected by cannabis laws
With the fines and fees associated with cannabis possession in many places, not to mention the jail time, those affected the most tend to be the poor. Not only are the most persecuted for the crimes, they are the most in need of the plant.
Without the means to treat ailments or depression with expensive medicines, a simple plant offers affordable relief. Yet, police often use possession laws to “clean the streets” of the eyesore that indigent people cause for the more affluent. Would Shane McCartney have even been bothered if he were a well dressed and prominent member of society? Most likely not.
But the police target the poor, plain and simple. And if the crimes they pull them in for don’t keep them out from underfoot, their lack of funds will keep them from paying their dues, and put them behind bars for a while anyway.
Should people be put in jail for failing to pay court costs? Why should this man have to pay £1,500 for a public solicitor when he can’t even pay for a place to live? Shout out on social media or in the comments below.