Marijuana Can’t Kill, But Marijuana Prohibition Certainly Can

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former 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. Bobby D.Denning says:

      The law was warned and see what happend. I guess we can go one at a time. (Stand in marijuana line not bread line.)

    2. Rick Taylor says:

      I think Ms. Rutkowski should have gotten a much larger settlement. I think hitting these “fascist regimes” in the only place they feel it, the money belt, is the only way they can be made to understand that we are human beings with all the same rights everyone else has. I, too, am diabetic. It was wrong of them to treat her that way. A number of years ago I was arrested on a case of MISTAKEN IDENTITY, by the police department of a small southern town. I was denied my medication overnight and then TRANSPORTED to another small southern town where I didn’t even have medicine. I was released almost 24 hours later and when I got home had to go to the ER to get my blood sugar down to normal. It was over 400. Oh, yeah, and the food I was given and expected to eat was completely inappropriate to my diet, I wasn’t even given food to eat at the other towns police department. When I checked into suing both police departments I was told it would cost more than I ever would get back. Really? If I’d had the money I would have immigrated elsewhere. It is very hard to see in this country today the country I was born into.

    3. Sean Haddad says:

      She can be the Rosa Parks of marijuana legalization. Rutkowski has given us steps closer to legalization. Let’s have Potimism!

    4. Steve says:

      Sadly there is a loophole for public use, two of them actually. First is that showing your pot and paraphernalia in public is still arrestable, second if you are in a public “plaza” you aren’t even allowed to smoke a cigarette. NYC isn’t about freedom, its about money, and there’s lots of money in civil and traffic violations, its terrible exploitation.

    5. adam says:

      This is Bullshit.that is all

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    7. Jeff says:

      people it will never change..i tried drinking to relieve stress because random testing by the employer was stressing me out..almost died from alcohol..now i’m left with no stress relief..if i owned a gun i would go on a fuckin killing rampage because the laws will never change,.. our goverment is hooked on arresting us to maintain it’s so called balance it has created..it is total and complete corruption, they control what we do, see, and hear, as well as tell us what to do in the privacy of our own home..i tried going to work after a night of drinking a few times..either went home sick , was unproductive, or was a danger to those around me, took meds to control anxiety once wrecked my car..so what will it be..society’s leaders to the gallows or a lame fuckin life till we die? Your choice..let’s all get together..organize and take back our freedom !!

    8. Douglas says:

      What the Cops did not have a specif protocol for dealing with a Diabetic patients? Being 54 years old it really scary the hake out of me just knowing what the cops will do to a person smoking a joint. I do not believe this is the first time a sick person has been arrested at that jail. No there a lot more that is going on here.( WAR WAR WAR ) Yep that what it will come down to. Our far father must be real a sham of us. One of the reason my Dad fought in ww2 was to keep our police and any government from doing this to us.

    9. Chris in WI says:

      I am no more outraged by this then I am by ANY random cannabis smoker being jailed. Your freedom is being taken from you, and any additional injury is just kicking you while you are down already. Ultimately her situation could have been resolved with rational drug policy.

      It’s hard to not sound like a bunch of whiners, but seriously we are held down by ‘The Man’ more then just about any other group, anymore. Gays are more accepted then potheads, which is odd since you would think we would be accepted first (not that hating any group is right).

      I share MLK’s dream that someday all mankind will see each other as brothers and sisters and learn not to judge others for the choices they make in their personal lives.

    10. Little Gypsy says:

      Arresting people for cannibis is just wrong. Don’t the Police have some real crimes to investigate?