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Man Faces Life Sentence After Federal Cannabis Conviction

life sentence for federal cannabis conviction
PHOTO Matthew Benoit


Man Faces Life Sentence After Federal Cannabis Conviction

Jonathan Wall faces ten years to life in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana in federal court.

A Maryland man could spend the rest of his life behind bars following a federal cannabis conviction in a Baltimore court for conspiracy to distribute more than a ton of marijuana. Jonathan Wall was convicted on May 6 after a jury deliberated for only two hours to decide his fate.

“This is not a case about marijuana possession,” Assistant US Attorney Anatoly Smolkin said during closing arguments for the five-day national marijuana trial. “This is a case about a drug conspiracy to distribute massive amounts of marijuana around the country.”

Wall was convicted of leading a criminal conspiracy to smuggle marijuana from California, where recreational cannabis is legal under state law, to his home state of Maryland. Under federal sentencing laws, he faces a minimum of ten years to life in prison.

11 Indicted in Marijuana Trafficking Case

Federal prosecutors relied on testimony from informants to convict Wall, who was indicted along with ten co-defendants for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. In the national marijuana trial court documents, prosecutors alleged that Wall knew the plan was against the law and that he earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from the operation that ran from 2016 to 2019. The prosecution alleged that Wall oversaw efforts to transport hundreds of pounds of cannabis at a time across the country to Maryland from Humboldt County, CA, where he moved to enter the cannabis industry at the age of 20.

After he was indicted by federal prosecutors for conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana in 2019, Wall fled to Guatemala. He said that the move was temporary as he bided his time, hoping that cannabis would be federally legalized in the US. In 2020, the same year that four states legalized cannabis for use by adults, Wall returned and surrendered himself to authorities. In the two years he was in custody awaiting trial, four more states also legalized adult-use cannabis.

Wall hoped that the changing political climate would bode well for his case and that the federal cannabis conviction charges against him would be dropped. His attorney, Jason Flores-Williams, unsuccessfully attempted to have the case thrown out ​​“due to disparate and arbitrary enforcement” of the nation’s drug laws.

“A citizen’s ability to engage in this American market depends neither on talent nor [on] work ethic, but on the preferences of the local prosecutor,” he wrote in a motion to dismiss the charges.

“If you’re in LA and own several dispensaries, then you’re a successful businessperson. If you’re in Maryland, then you’re evidently a criminal.”

Flores-Williams added that “there are millions of people right now in this country who are engaged in the manufacture, distribution and/or possession of cannabis, who aren’t, in fact, being prosecuted.” He added that “some citizens are enjoying economic liberties that other citizens are being denied, which violates bedrock equal protection law,” depending on where they’re located.

Court Stifles Planned Defense Strategy

Flores-Williams also hoped to rely on jury nullification, the right of members of a jury to vote against convicting defendants charged for violating unjust laws, to secure an acquittal in Wall’s case. The defense strategy held that jurors wouldn’t go along with a federal cannabis conviction — even for marijuana distribution — when so many states have legalized cannabis. But the US Attorney’s office asked US District Judge Stephanie Gallagher to ban all references to the cannabis legalization movement during the national marijuana trial. Justice Department lawyers requested that Gallagher bar defense attorneys “from asking questions, presenting evidence or making arguments regarding the way the law in other jurisdictions treats marijuana.”

“Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance and under federal law, it is a crime to conspire with others to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute marijuana,” prosecutors wrote in their motion.

“The fact that other jurisdictions have legalized marijuana, decriminalized marijuana, are considering decriminalization of certain quantities of marijuana or have declined to prosecute individuals for crimes involving marijuana, isn’t relevant to the issues at this trial.”

The motion added that “evidence and argument of this sort isn’t relevant and should be excluded from this trial.”

In April, Gallagher approved the prosecutor’s pretrial motion, depriving Wall of the strategy he had been depending on to defend himself. When the trial began on May 2, supporters said that they were surprised at the tight restrictions the judge had placed on the defense.

“This is stacking the deck,” Wall’s father, Jonathan Wall Sr., told the Outlaw Report.

Wall’s family, friends and advocates came to the trial to show support — including parking a truck billboard pleading his case outside the courthouse. But the efforts failed to change the outcome of the national marijuana trial and Wall was convicted on May 6. He remains in custody pending sentencing. “Ultimately, this was a referendum on whether Americans would still incarcerate people for pot,” Flores-Williams told reporters as he left the courtroom. “The answer is: Yes, they will.”

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