Earlier this week, the country’s cruel and drastic treatment of cannabis growers came to a head in Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana is legal, but possession of any number of plants is still considered a felony.
On the morning of Monday, July 9, a Game Commission employee in rural Berks County noticed a car “well off the road in a field” on state game lands while clearing brush with a bulldozer and called the police. Troopers, including members of the Vice squad, arrived just as the two men — David Light, 54, and Gregory Longenecker, 51 — “came out of the very thick underbrush, [and both] fled on foot.” According to troopers, “about a dozen marijuana plants were found growing in the dense brush.” (As of this writing, neither man has been confirmed as having grown the plants in question). Light eventually surrendered to police and Longenecker fled into the brush.
The brush was too thick to walk through, and thus the police pursued Longenecker with both the bulldozer and a police helicopter. Longenecker was spotted briefly, and troopers on the helicopter called to him through a loudspeaker, but they could not reach him and he did not respond. After a couple of hours, the search was called off.
But when the Game Commission employee, accompanied by a trooper, exited the bulldozer, they discovered Longenecker’s body beneath the rear of the machine, between its tracks.
Many questions remain unanswered in the aftermath of Longenecker’s death.
Trooper David C. Beohm told reporters that the death has been ruled accidental, but the results of an autopsy, which were conducted Tuesday, reveal that Longenecker died of “traumatic injuries,” even though police initially suggested that he may have been killed by a heart attack. A final autopsy is pending. Beohm said that he did not know if the driver of the bulldozer has been placed on administrative leave; his name has not been released. As Beohm told the Reading Eagle, the trooper in question as being treated similarly “to when a trooper is involved in a shooting death.”
“As a former prosecutor and practicing criminal defense attorney, it is inconceivable to me that a man lost his life during an investigation of a very small grow,” remarked Patrick Nightengale, executive director of Pittsburgh NORML. “I do not understand why law enforcement couldn’t simply wait. A vehicle was on scene and another individual was taken into custody. Rip the plants, run the plate and ask the arrestee what his friend’s name is. How difficult is that?”
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri added that “This tragedy is a direct result of our nation’s draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana. Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of U.S. states.”
Ironically, later this week, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf signed a new law facilitating medical marijuana research. While such legislation marks a step in the right direction for Pennsylvania’s approach to cannabis, it does nothing to mitigate the senseless policies that led to the death of Longenecker, nor to the arrest of Light, who has been charged with various drug offenses and trespassing. He is free on $25,000 bail. Perhaps we will be able to look back on this tragic incident as a turning point, a moment when the citizens of Pennsylvania and other states across the country with similar policies see firsthand what happens when cannabis is attacked with such militaristic and extreme tactics. It is an example of cruelty that should not be allowed to happen again.
TELL US, are you surprised by the actions of the troopers?