A few years ago, when legalizing cannabis was still in the middle stages of legislative debate, Gov. Phil Scott acknowledged that he has plenty of friends who regularly partake of the demon weed. And yet he opposed further moves toward legalization or state regulation.
The underlying assumption was that of course, his friends would never get busted for pot. Nod and a wink, don’t ya know. It might be illegal on the books, but, ha ha, nobody ever enforces the law, so why not let sleeping laws lie?
Bruce Prosper, Jr. is why.
Prosper is the Northeast Kingdom resident who’s paralyzed from the waist down, and grows his own cannabis for medicinal use. Which caught the attention of an Essex County Sheriff’s deputy, who I believe is seen above riding the bumper in the lower left.
He went and got himself a search warrant, deputies descended on the Prosper home, and heroically arrested him and the rest of his family on felony charges that could bring up to 15 years in prison for each.
And the county prosecutor, the widely esteemed political fixer Vince Illuzzi, is insisting on going ahead with the case. Illuzzi told VTDigger that he’s “kind of caught,” adding that “We are obligated to enforce the law.”
Illuzzi’s been around long enough to be familiar with the concept of “prosecutorial discretion,” which gives wide latitude to prosecutors on when to pursue charges, when to make a deal, and when to just drop the whole thing.
I mean, hell, even the county sheriff himself expected Illuzzi to dispose of the case by sending the defendants into a diversion program. But apparently that’s out of bounds for Vince the Vindictive.
There is broad agreement among Vermonters that cannabis should be fully legalized. So much so, that many who oppose legalization (including the governor) acknowledge that it’s only a matter of time. But this is the natural consequence of keeping an outdated law on the books. It becomes a trap that might be sprung at any moment, either because a cop or a prosecutor has a bee in his bonnet or because the “offender” is a person of color or has too many tattoos or whatever.
Prosper is a resident of Bloomfield, which had a population of 221 in the last Census. He lives next to the town hall, and has made no secret that he’s growing his own supply because he needs it to manage chronic pain. Also, the nearest medical dispensary is almost three hours away and he can’t afford its prices on his Social Security benefits.
If this isn’t a case for prosecutorial discretion, I don’t know what is. Illuzzi is hinting that he’ll be willing to plead this down to a token fine. But c’mon, it should never have been brought in the first place. And it shouldn’t go any farther.
The Vermont Growers Association has posted an online petition calling for the charges against Prosper and his family to be dropped. It’s got 255 signatures as of this writing, toward a goal of at least 400.
That would be a good place to start. But our lawmakers ought to think seriously about the potential damage done by keeping illogical laws on the books just because they’re afraid of change.
The Legislature’s priority list for 2021 is long and daunting. But the arrest and prosecution of Bruce Prosper should put further cannabis reform on the front burner.
Postscript. Prosper was arrested nearly two and a half months ago. This case only came to public attention on November 24, when VTDigger published its story. Presumably the only reason it came to Digger’s attention is because they actually have a full-time reporter in the Kingdom (Justin Trombly). There’s no sign of any coverage in the Kingdom’s daily birdcage liner, the Caledonian Record.
I have to wonder if this case would ever have received coverage if not for Digger’s presence. It’s yet another sign of what we can lose in an ever-shrinking media ecosystem.