With Legalized Pot in the Air, a Federal Trial Riles Advocates

With Legalized Pot in the Air, a Federal Trial Riles Advocates

While the prosecution in this case at times painted Mr. Wall’s operation with shades of the underworld — one witness even accused Mr. Wall of sending a coded death threat in a courtroom hand gesture, an allegation the judge told the jury to disregard — a jury in 2022 might be more offended by the cheating than the drugs, said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who edits a blog on marijuana law and policy.

“Maybe you’re not that scary anymore because you’re involved with this drug,” he said. “But you know, we really don’t like you not following the rules.”

It was on a 2019 trip with his parents to Portugal that Mr. Wall told his family the federal authorities were looking into his pot-growing operation in California, said his mother, Mitzi Wall, a retired contracting officer for the U.S. Army. Within months, the indictment came down, and Mr. Wall responded by fleeing to Guatemala.

Back in Maryland, and desperate to keep in touch with her son, Ms. Wall would soon learn what a burner phone was. In long days on the internet, she would also learn about the drug war, mandatory minimums, three strikes laws and many other parts of the giant machinery of criminal justice in the United States.

“You start deep diving, and you learn these horrors,” Ms. Wall said. “Once you find these things out, you can’t return from that.”

Richard Stratton, a journalist who had written about his years in prison on marijuana smuggling charges, eventually persuaded Mr. Wall to turn himself in. Mr. Stratton also put him in touch with the son of one of his former cellmates: the lawyer, Mr. Flores-Williams.

Mr. Flores-Williams saw this as a case with big implications. “It is likely that, within four years, or perhaps four months, that the crime for which the government is prosecuting Mr. Wall will no longer even be a crime,” he wrote in a 2020 filing. He concluded the motion with a flourish: “Who will be the last American to be deprived of their life and liberty for marijuana?”

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