Marijuana Can’t Kill, But Marijuana Prohibition Certainly Can

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director July 19, 2011

    Today’s New York Times City Blog features an article about a court settlement between New York City and Jamie Rutkowski. Who is Jamie Rutkowski? Until New York City police decided to arrest her for minor cannabis possession—in a city that is supposed to be issuing civil tickets— locking her up in police detention, creating a health hazard for the young woman with diabetes and ultimately paying her $125,000 in damages, no one knew who she was.

    Now, all cannabis consumers in the United States—notably in municipalities and states that have reformed their cannabis laws with decriminalization laws and patient protections for medicinal use—should cite Ms. Rutkowski’s case settlement as precedent against overzealous law enforcement agencies who choose to physically arrest and detain minor cannabis offenders, rather than issue them a civil fine, similar to a speeding or parking ticket.

    Kudos to Ms. Rutkowski and her attorney Joel Berger for 1) challenging the NYC police department’s infamous practice of arresting and detaining for many hours minor cannabis offenders and 2) for making it ironically clear that even an arrest on minor cannabis charges can create serious health concerns whereby an adult who chooses to consume a non-toxic and relatively safe recreational drug like cannabis (or, has the drug recommended to them to consume medically by their physician) can quite literally be placed into a life or death situation.

    “They could have killed me over a joint,” Ms. Rutkowski said. “Something needs to be done.”

    After thousands of years of human use, there is little-to-no scientific evidence that moderate cannabis use is harmful to the individual consumer or society in the whole. However, there is overwhelming and abundantly clear evidence that Cannabis Prohibition can be deadly for individual consumers, law enforcement personnel and those involved in the currently illegal and untaxed businesses of cultivating, transporting and selling cannabis.

    Disgustingly, in a city that, since the late 1970s, is supposed to have true ‘decriminalization’ laws for cannabis possession cases, New York City continues to nearly lead the nation in per capita arrests for simple cannabis possession cases (approximately 43,000 cannabis possession arrests annually; constituting nearly five percent of all annual cannabis arrests nationwide) as well as having one of the most racially imbalanced arrest rates for minorities (approximately nine out of ten cannabis arrests in NYC are made against minorities).

    After Diabetic Woman’s Arrest, a $125,000 Settlement


    Her decision to smoke a marijuana cigarette outside a Manhattan bar where she was attending a bachelorette party landed Jaime Rutkowski in jail, threatened her life and lead to a lawsuit that on Monday yielded $125,000 from the city.

    On Oct. 16, Ms. Rutkowski, who has diabetes, said she was thrown to the ground and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana outside a club on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side.

    Stress elevates her blood sugar levels and at the nearby police station house, the blood sugar meter she uses was confiscated. She relied on the meter to determine how much insulin to inject into her system from an insulin pump inserted in her stomach. An overdose could be life-threatening.

    The police eventually called for an ambulance more than three hours after Ms. Rutkowski had been taken into custody. Emergency medical technicians found that her sugar level was almost four times the normal level, dangerous enough to take her to Bellevue Hospital Center.

    Ms. Rutkowski and her lawyer, Joel Berger, filed a suit against the city and the officers involved in part because they hope it will alert the the Police Department to the needs of diabetic prisoners.

    “The settlement is so high because a woman nearly died,” said Mr. Berger.

    Mr. Berger also said Ms. Rutkowski’s crime was “trivial.” He added: “Almost any jury was not going to be exactly shocked by the nature of the offense. They’re not going to view this as the crime of the century.”

    Ms. Rutkowski was charged with a class-B misdemeanor and received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which means that she was not fined and that after one year her case will be dropped and sealed.

    Elizabeth Thomas, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said, “We believe the settlement is in the best interest of all the parties.”

    The Police Department’s aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws has led to an increase in arrests for possessing small amounts of the drug. While many of those arrests result in fines but no jail time, they do typically result in spending a night in jail.

    “They could have killed me over a joint,” Ms. Rutkowski said. “Something needs to be done.”

    Mr. Berger said the police did not have a specific protocol to deal with diabetic patients, something that he believes needs to be addressed. “Police officers need to understand that when they arrest a diabetic, there are potentially life-threatening effects,” he said.

    Ms. Rutkowski said she would use money from the settlement to pay student loans and to further her education. A graduate of Temple, where she studied chemistry, she said she’s interested in pursuing a degree as a doctor of veterinary medicine. “I’m going to try and make something good out of a terrible situation,” she said.

    96 Responses to “Marijuana Can’t Kill, But Marijuana Prohibition Certainly Can”

    1. sucksforthem says:

      They ‘could have’ killed you over a joint? No. They ‘would have’ and afterwards, they would have slept like babies. The powers that be are one sick party of pathetic pups. They can’t last. Evil never does. Have hope brothers and sisters. They are few. WE ARE MANY.

    2. I know for a fact that cannabis can and does save lives. Im living proff. The rich man has kept it from us long enough from profiting off of big pharma stocks and we all know that the list also icludes oil companies the timber industries and it would take away the monies for the failed drug war. Im a 6 year Vet. and I cant beleive that the laws of an impeached Pres. like Nixion! Also its covienent to criminalize the sick and weak makes you look like a real big Brother to the rest of the world. Hoover and Asshinger was a mistake of our people at the time. 70 Yrs. is to long .

    3. The American Genesist says:

      82. Elmer Fittery

      “Eventually somebody will die and if they do, the settlement could be in the millions.”

      Elmer – Forget eventually – some have already died at the hands of law enforcement. Settlement will “eventually” come – but – it won’t be in the form of money – and – it may not be totally over cannbis – if you get my drif – it will be Aristocracy v. Prolatariat – Freedom v. Fabian Socialism – God v. Satin. There are a lot of pissed off puppies out there – and – “their fuse is lit.” When it starts the politicians will be running for shelter. It’s rumored that the gangs will start banging first. So! “we will wait – and – we will see.”

    4. The American Genesist says:

      CDXX Communion of 07.23.11
      To my brethren of the Genesist Faith

      Establishment Clause.
      “Without exemption (circumscription – qualification) no person(s) shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

      Religious Exercise means: 1.) any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to a system of religious belief. 2.) any conduct protected as exercise of religion under the first amendment of the Constitution.

      Free Exercise means: That portion of the first amendment to the Constitution that proscribes laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion and includes the application of that proscription under the 14th amendment to the Constitution.

      Today’s Thanksgiving
      Lord of both body and mind – We praise you [with jubilee] for all the heaven’s and earth’s array, the goodness of creation, and respect the Sixth Day as – A day of thanksgiving. We honor your will, word and blessing [with] fellowship, [in] CDXX Communion, [on] the Sixth Day – A day of thanksgiving.

      The Bible [any Bible] – the Supreme Law of Creation – and – the Constitution – the Supreme Law of the Land – are the only to references I require.

    Leave a Reply