Jessica Andreavich has led her life by having compassion for others. She grew up with a sibling with Down’s Syndrome; is a mother to two and a foster mother to eight more children; and her work in a hospital involved educating patients about Delaware’s medical cannabis program. She became a caregiver for patients in the program and developed sympathy especially for patients who needed more therapeutic forms of cannabis than just the raw plant material available in the Compassionate Care Centers at the time.
She started helping fellow patients learn how to turn the raw plant material edibles, like candies, which physicians say can be more therapeutic than smoking for patients depending on their illness and body chemistry. Delaware centers only sold raw cannabis and its illegal to grow your own, limiting choices to consume the plant medicine. What Andreavich was doing was within Delaware law if both parties hold a medical cannabis card. She said she always checked for cards before any exchange was made.
But when law enforcement sent her an undercover officer who posed as a veteran diagnosed with PTSD, and who applied to the state program awaiting her card. But Andreavich’s compassion was played against her. She turned her down and said she needs the card before she can help her. The undercover officer claimed she was suicidal, so Andreavich’s empathy for suffering veterans compelled her to help. The Veterans Administration (VA) admits 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
Jessica was found guilty of two felonies: one count drug-dealing and one count of conspiracy after selling five marijuana gummy candies and one bottle of tincture for $60 to the undercover detective. She was sentenced to one year of probation and community service. Her medical cannabis card was revoked and she is barred from the system. The felonies prevent her from employment and she cannot be a caregiver any longer.
It’s 2020 and thoughts are changing about cannabis. Delaware was one of the first states to open their medical cannabis Compassionate Care Centers passing the law in 2011, but the prohibition-influenced image of a “drug-dealer” clearly still lingers in the minds of lawmakers in state’s like Delaware.
The words “drug dealer” instantly suggest the most dangerous person one can imagine who wants to harm others. And, because the U.S. has prohibited cannabis for decades, few people question it, instantly justifying any consequences our government imposes on anyone arrested for marijuana. Except that would mean we assume our government’s reasons for making the plaant illegal were scientifically based. They weren’t, by the way.
Andreavich had worked in one of Delaware’s Compassionate Care Centers until she and the owner, an ex-cop, agreed her popularity in helping patients turn the plant into edible forms was interfering with the center’s business. She also noticed registered patients struggling to pay for the medicine their doctor recommends for them and often spoke up about her concerns for patients. The Compassionate Care Centers were not authorized to sell edible forms of cannabis.
Dr. David Bearman, a medical cannabis specialist, was quoted in news coverage of Andreavich’s case saying, “This sounds like somebody who has a real humanitarian spirit and indeed, cannabis is very expensive… Frankly, I think law enforcement has better things to do with their time.”
Delaware law enforcement connected to Andreavich’s case said violent crimes are often associated with the illegal sale of cannabis. “By taking enforcement action against illegal marijuana sales, we are preventing serious crimes from occurring,” Col. Vaughn Bond, chief of the county police department said, “[…] especially when there are large amounts involved… officers have a duty to enforce the law. In fact, we have investigated several homicides which centered on the illegal sale of marijuana,” Bond said.
“I would never want to harm anyone and I only started charging for the medicine exchanges to cover my own cost of what it took to make the edible medicine,” said Andreavich.
She was originally charged with five counts of drug-dealing, one count of possession of a controlled substance in a Tier 2 quantity, one count of possession of drug paraphernalia and one count of conspiracy. Two other people were arrested during the raid of her home, but the total amount of cannabis found did not exceed the allowable 6 ounces per patient accounting for Andreavich being a legal caregiver of two patients. Law enforcement only found 18 ounces of cannabis, or a little over a pound.
It is hard to make the connection that violence or protecting others from harm was justified for the use of law enforcement resources in Andreavich’s case. Delaware did just recently expand the law to include ways for low income patients to afford their medical cannabis. But, it takes advocates like Andreavich who do not allow fear to keep her from caring for others and influence changes in law. Unfortunately, these changes don’t help her situation and enforcement of the law is left to be unclear and very subjective.
Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law is a portrait exhibit designed to educate communities and erode the stigma of cannabis criminalization. Portrait stories are available to community, advocacy, and industry events to promote awareness and provoke dialogue that encourages viewers to question assumptions and actively engage in undoing the damages of cannabis prohibition. Find them at cruelconsequences.org and on social media at @cruleconsequences.