Make Hash Brownies, Get A Life Sentence In Prison? It Might Just Happen To A Texas Teenager

Over in Texas, a teenager has been charged with a first-degree felony for making and selling hash brownies, and is facing a prison sentence that could be anything from five years to life. Jacob Lavoro, a 19-year-old former high school football player with an otherwise clean record, may be handed down the long sentence thanks to one catch: He used hash oil instead of marijuana as an ingredient. As a result, authorities weighed the entirety of the brownies — eggs, butter, cocoa and all — to determine the amount of the drugs.

"They've weighed baked goods in this case. It ought to be a misdemeanor," Lavoro's lawyer Jack Holmes told local station KEYE TV. He added that he's "never seen anything like this before."

Lavoro's father agreed that the potential sentence is "outrageous," telling the local news station: "If he did something wrong he should be punished but to the extent that makes sense. This is illogical."

The confiscated brownies weighed 1.5 pounds, or about 680 grams. Under current Texas law, the manufacture or delivery of more than 400 grams of hash is a felony with 10 years to life in prison, as well as a maximum fine of $10,000. Meanwhile, selling marijuana in Texas has a maximum penalty of 99 years in prison.

The use, sale and possession of marijuana is currently illegal under federal law. Only two states, Colorado and Washington, have fully legalized marijuana possession. However, Colorado is the only state — and only place in the world — where possession, production, distribution and the personal growing of marijuana is legal. Medicinal marijuana is also legal in 20 states, mostly on the West Coast and in the Northeast.

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Because the legalization and criminalization of marijuana and hash-related products is largely left to the states, the penalties for the use, possession and sale of marijuana drastically differs across state lines. As seen in this most recent case of Jacob Lavoro, what's totally legal in Colorado is deserving as life in prison in Texas.

Lavoro isn't the first person to face a long, harsh prison sentence for marijuana offenses. According to the organization Life For Pot, 13 people are currently in prison for life without parole for marijuana offenses. One famous case is that of John Knock, a former Hawaiian resident who was extradited to Florida because of an alleged connection to a marijuana smuggling sting. Knock is serving two life terms in prison.

Then there's Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man who was sentenced to life without parole in 1993 for possessing five pounds of marijuana; he had no other violent charges. His son continues to fight his father's sentence, recently asking Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to grant Mizanskey executive clemency.

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Many of these marijuana cases occurred during the '90s, when the War on Drugs was an overwhelming presence in America. According to the 1994 Atlantic article "Reefer Madness," about 15,000 prisoners in the federal system — one out of every six inmates — were incarcerated for a marijuana offense at that time, while another 20,000 to 30,000 were being held in state prisons and local jails.

Nearly a decade later, the numbers are more or less the same: About 40,000 inmates in state and federal prison have a marijuana offense. According to FBI data from 2012, authorities made one marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, totaling more than 1.5 million arrests. That number remained relatively unchanged from 2011.

A study released this week from Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy also showed that arrests are more common than fines when it comes to misdemeanor marijuana possession in Illinois, even though the state tried enacting legislation to curb the number of arrests.

"We know the public is on our side. We just need to convince the politicians," a member of Illinois' National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws told The Chicago Tribune.

Image: Flickr/JeffreyW