By Sharon Letts
Detaining the Messenger
The irony of America’s top cannabis educator being detained and booked for carrying her medicine in her home state, on her way to speak at a cannabis educational conference on the eve of that state voting for medical cannabis, is not lost on this writer.
While on the road in Oklahoma for her “Plant a Seed for Cannabis Educational Tour,” with two talks scheduled, Regina Nelson, Ph.D., was arrested with two companions in her home state on February 19, charged for infractions of “Possession” and “intent to distribute” cannabis. They were released on bail the next day.
Though Dr. Nelson is admittedly a cannabis patient, with corroborating reports which state cannabis products were booked into evidence, the “intent to distribute” charge is a common assumption on the part of authorities. It is interesting to note, though, that every single officer she met throughout the ordeal asked if she had cancer, which raises a red flag regarding the need for cannabis therapy within law enforcement, but more importantly, it shows that none of them regarded her to be a drug dealer.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, conducted in September of 2017, 57 percent of Americans approve of Dr. Nelson’s right to medicate or recreate with cannabis.
That said, Oklahoma is a conservative state, with some of the toughest cannabis laws on the books since 1933.
And though cannabinoid (CBD) only was accepted by its House of Representatives in 2015 (HB 2835), whole plant approval for medical use won’t be voted on until June 26th of this year, via its citizens (SQ 788). Oklahomans for Health (Sooner Poll) reports that 62 percent of residents favor the bill.
It’s tough to travel with your meds when you are a cannabis patient. It gets complicated if you are a patient traveling the world, speaking to educate on the subject, and are pulled over in an “illegal state.”
It also gets surreal when inquiries of the efficacy of cannabis are made, and personal stories are shared of help with the herb, as you are booked.
While parts of this story must be held for a judicial audience, it’s not unusual for Dr. Nelson to use random encounters as teaching moments. Within the proverbial book of the greater good, this is a standard scenario for educators and caregivers in the cannabis community; for once you are helped with the plant, it becomes a calling to share.
What can be stated is, while traveling from Colorado with her publishing partner, Michael Browning, and her 24-year-old son and assistant, Bryan Laufenberg, the group were pulled over in McAlester, Oklahoma, for the alleged minor infraction of failing to engage a turning-signal, 100 feet before a highway off ramp.
Browning, who co-authored “Time for the Talk: Talking to Your Doctor or Patient About Medical Cannabis,” with Dr. Nelson, is also a videographer who films Dr. Nelson’s appearances at scientific conferences. The two went back to the location of the traffic stop to document the distance traveled with a video camera. They deducted the blinker distance had to have been no less than 200 feet and was more than likely closer to 1,000 feet prior to the exit.
Nonetheless, once the officer pulled them over (darting from curbside, bypassing three other cars, per Dr. Nelson), he claimed to have smelled cannabis within the car and proceeded to search the vehicle.
McAlester’s counsel for the group, Brecken Wagner, stated the smell of cannabis is a weak excuse for a search, surmising, “It’s simply an excuse in targeted stops for officers to abuse their power.”
The fact that the group was sporting Colorado license plates is suspect, reeking (pun intended) of a targeted stop. A conversation overheard at the station begged more questions, as details of a department competition for possession were shared. The group’s arresting officer declared he was in the lead with four confiscations that day.
As detailed by NPR in 2015, quotas for infractions are a dirty little secret within law enforcement. Often referred to as a “minimum performance standard,” they are said to put pressure on officers to write tickets, make arrests, and confiscate illegal substances. As stated by a police officer in the NPR article, merely saving lives just doesn’t cut it any longer.
“We were just grateful we were in a rental car, and they didn’t have the opportunity to confiscate my personal vehicle,” Dr. Nelson shared. Due to its federal scheduling, she added, “[…] the trickle down effect has been extremely profitable for many cities, counties and states.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back former President Obama’s directive eliminating forfeiture of civil assets. The practice, instated in the early days of the War on Drugs, allows local law enforcement to confiscate cash, cars, homes and more, without a conviction or a lack of charges.
The gross net of arresting and detaining Dr. Nelson’s group speaks volumes to the subsidies earned by local law enforcement from a crime without victims, from a medicine in which 30 states and counting have approved for medicinal use.
“They charged each of us, two nights at $44 a night, for a 25-hour stay,” Dr. Nelson explained. “My parents, who are retired Tulsa public school teachers, had never been through anything like this in their lives. They found a bondsman and several thousand dollars later we were released,” she explained. “It was a traumatic experience for them, as they have watched me heal and witnessed me earning a doctorate with a focus on cannabis, yet in our home state, I’m now a jailbird.”
Dr. Nelson attempted to make light of the situation, stating, “Being caught traveling with an endocannabinoid system is not a crime — every human has one!” But her hope is that the charges will be thrown out with a targeted stop and unconstitutional search rebuttal.
“If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it confirms the fact that medical cannabis patient’s constitutional rights must be acknowledged nationwide,” Dr. Nelson concluded. “Our targeted stop is a sign of the times — it’s time for change, and time for our elected officials to deschedule cannabis and stop preying and profiting on patients.”
To contribute funds towards the group’s court case, visit www.gofundme.com/targetedstop
For more information about Dr. Nelson’s work; the Plant a Seed for Cannabis Education Tour and schedule; or to order her books on the endocannabinoid system, visit www.myecstherapy.org
Dr. Nelson can be booked for corporate, private or public events by calling, (303) 505-0591.