Even though recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states and medical marijuana legal in 38 states, that doesn’t mean police, prosecutors, and judges have abandoned their long-time war on marijuana or their prejudice against marijuana users.
The war on marijuana was a major sport for law enforcement, courts, drug testers and judges since 1937, and also a major source of revenue, power, and cultural aggression. When members of the Growing Marijuana Perfectly journalism team have interacted with law enforcement and courts in the new era of marijuana legalization, we’ve discovered that many powerful people are still prejudiced against marijuana and cannabis culture.
This prejudice was on display in Loudoun County, Virginia recently, when Republican Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher showed incredible cruelty to a victim of severe domestic violence.
The victim, who is unnamed for her own protection, was testifying in Fisher’s courtroom about the “alleged” violent abuse she’d received from her domestic partner when Fisher rudely interrupted her.
According to documents filed by the commonwealth attorney’s office, Fisher didn’t like the way the woman talked, and started asking her if she was a drug user and had been using marijuana.
Using marijuana recreationally is totally legal in Virginia since July 1, 2021. The state’s legalization statute allows you to cultivate up to four plants provided they aren’t visible from the street and precautions are taken to prevent access by minors. Each plant must be tagged with grower’s name, driver’s license or state identification number, and a personal use statement.
People caught with more than four plants face penalties that include a $250 fine for between 4 and 10 plants to felony charges for more than 50 plants. The Virginia law doesn’t allow you to make concentrates from your buds, nor does it make it legal for you to buy marijuana seeds or clones.
Despite the fact that the victim had every right to smoke marijuana legally, the judge interrupted the victim’s testimony, interrogated her, then sentenced her to ten days in jail for contempt of court after she said she smoked marijuana that day. The judge claimed marijuana use impaired the victim’s testimony.
The already-traumatized woman was then dragged out of the courtroom by a posse of sheriff’s officers! She was forced to stay two days in jail while she sought to get the money needed for bail release.
Even the prosecutors noticed how badly the judge had behaved. In the Commonwealth Attorney’s filing asking that the contempt citation be dismissed, prosecutors said the judge erred in several ways.
First of all, the woman didn’t appear to be intoxicated, so there was no reason for the judge to accuse her of using intoxicants in a way that negatively affected her testimony.
The woman was understandably nervous and distraught after being subjected to hours of hostile questioning from the alleged abuser’s attorneys, who asked her for details about her sexual history and drug use.
The alleged abuser has already been found guilty twice before for abusing the woman, but Judge Fisher refused to take testimony from detectives who interviewed her who would have testified her “behaviors were consistent with all prior interactions and that she exhibited no signs of intoxication prior to her testimony.”
“In the middle of a difficult cross-examination, she was detained, interrogated, arrested and removed from the courtroom,” wrote Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elena Ventura, adding that the abuse victim was “not treated with the respect, sensitivity or dignity required by law.”
Fisher used to be a county prosecutor. One member of our team has had courtroom interactions with Fisher and described him as “a typical right-wing asshole who uses his power to punish innocent people.”
The commonwealth attorney’s office argued that Fisher’s actions harm more than just this one woman because his harsh treatment of her “may create a chilling effect surrounding victim willingness to testify in cases of domestic violence, an area of law already replete with victims recanting and/or refusing to cooperate, due to the extensive trauma domestic violence victims experience through the cycle of power and control, especially in cases where victims have mental health concerns.”
Fisher has been previously accused of being a misogynist and an arrogant judge who uses contempt charges way more than most judges. In January 2020, Fisher even jailed a divorce lawyer for alleged contempt. The lawyer is suing the judge and the county over her jailing.
Fisher appears not to understand Virginia’s contempt statute, which says a judge can fine someone up to $250 and jail them for a maximum of 10 days only for courtroom misbehavior, violence, threats of violence or “vile, contemptuous, or insulting language.”
In the felony domestic abuse trial, the victim didn’t exhibit any of those contempt indicators.
“She did not admit to doing any illegal activity nor did she admit to being under the influence in the courtroom,” said the woman’s attorney Thomas K. Plofchan, Jr. “There was no slurring of her words, nothing that indicated that she had taken some sort of intoxicant that affected her speech or muscular movement.
Plofchan also noted it was an afternoon trial but the judge made no inquiry as to when in the morning she had used marijuana and how much she used. The judge never advised her of her constitutional and Miranda rights. Further, the “independent investigation” Fisher conducted by asking her about her drug use is barred by judicial protocols.
“Just in general when dealing with domestic violence victims, there’s a history of not treating the victim with respect and dignity, but we’re supposed to be protecting women,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, a Democrat who represents parts of Loudoun.
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, an attorney, wondered whether the witness would have been treated as badly if she had said she had a beer that morning.
“When we passed the marijuana legalization statute, one of the things we tried to do was ensure marijuana would be treated the same as alcohol,” he said. “It’s important everybody remember that marijuana possession and consumption is now legal.”
If you live in a legal marijuana state but encounter anti-marijuana prejudice on the job, via drug testing, in custody disputes or other civil proceedings, in landlord-tenant relationships, etc. consider seeking legal advice about whether you have a claim of discrimination.
Unless we all fight back against anti-marijuana prejudice, it will persist. And here’s the link for Virginia’s judicial review commission. Somebody should file a complaint and get this vicious judge kicked off the court.