Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just Another Thursday

It seems to rain quite a bit here in Autumn.

I haven't been here long enough yet to determine if it's always like this in the fall, but I seem to remember it raining a lot more here at this time of year than it does in Western New York last Autumn as well.

Don't get me wrong, I like the rain... it makes the pretty flowers grow, yada yada yada, and obviously rain is extremely important in an agrarian-based economy like Minnesota's.

It's just that I really look forward to my early evening walk with Victor and Roxie, and positively hate cutting it short because Victor is not a big fan of rain, and is completely miserable if he has to stay out in it for an extended period of time.

Roxie, of course doesn't care one way or another, she just likes to be out on a walk and seems to be oblivious to the water falling from the sky. I guess her "Rain? Whatever." attitude is leftover from her life on the streets of the lower west side of Buffalo before she was rescued.


Last Thursday, the supposedly liberal Minnesota Supreme Court voted 4-3 that possession of bong water is now a Class 1 Drug Offense.

I swear I am not making that up.

Apparently a woman named Sarah Ruth Peck (age 46) was charged with first-degree drug possession in September 2007 after the South Central Drug Investigation Unit searched her home and found a glass bong, a small butane torch and a glass pipe.

She had 2.5 tablespoons of bong water in her bong. The state charged her with a Class 1 drug offense, carrying a presumptive penalty of 86 months in prison, because the water weighed 37 grams, over the 25 gram threshold.

The trial court threw it out. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. In a split decision, the MN Supreme Court reversed and concluded the bong water is a mixture containing a controlled substance and reinstated the charge.

One of the three dissenting Judges wrote the following opinion:

"The majority's decision to permit bong water to be used to support a first-degree felony controlled-substance charge runs counter to the legislative structure of our drug laws, does not make common sense, and borders on the absurd."

The Judge says the majority's decision "has the potential to undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system.

Further, he finds the majority's result to run counter to the legislative structure of the state's drug laws, which must be read together, in a way to give effect to all its provisions.

"Second, I dissent because the decision of Rice County to charge Sara Ruth Peck with a first-degree felony offense—an offense that has a presumptive sentence of 86 months in prison—for possession of two and one-half tablespoons of bong water is not only contrary to the law, it is counterproductive to the purposes of our criminal justice system.

...Rice County‟s decision to charge Peck in a manner far more serious than what was intended by the legislature represents the kind of counterproductive activity that leads unnecessarily to increasing incarceration rates and wasted taxpayer money.1 I conclude that Rice County‟s actions are not permitted by law, were not intended by the legislature, and do not benefit the citizens of the State of Minnesota."

The majority credited the testimony of Douglas Rauenhorst, a narcotics cop not involved in Peck's case, who said he had no experience with smoking, and acknowledged that users do not ordinarily inhale or ingest bong water when smoking a bong pipe.

He adds, however, that in his experience drug users drink bong water, or shoot it up. (He also testified in his experience some drug users drink urine.)

Now wait just a minute...

From my own experience, (yes, I've been known to own a bong or two in my lifetime) and the experience of many of my readers (you know who you are) the ingestion of bong water is NOT something done on purpose. Anyone who has ever smoked through a bong has probably had the experience of a little water getting into their mouth, and will join me in asserting that bong water is quite possibly the most vile-tasting substance on the planet.

In fact, an associate of mine Paul Boden (rest in peace brother), before he died too early at age 40 designed a bong that was not only spill-proof, but also took care of the problem of excess water getting into the user's mouth. Damn thing worked too... the only thing worse than getting bong water in your mouth is spilling it on your carpet... those in the know can attest to the fact that bong water smells just as nasty as it tastes.

As for officer Rauenhorst's claim that some drug users also drink urine... well... if he honestly believes that, then officer Rauenhorst must be smoking some REALLY good shit.

The lower courts ruled in Peck's favor:

"Based on the function water serves in bong usage and the fact that the bong water forming the basis of Peck‟s charge was found while still in the bong, Judge Neuville found it “apparent that the water which was seized by the State was intended to be a part of the bong, or drug paraphernalia.”

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court, concluding that the weight of the bong water could not be used to sustain a first-degree controlled-substance charge against Peck because the post-use byproduct of a bong is not a mixture."

The Judge chides the majority for relying only on dictionary definitions of the words mixture, substance, etc. He notes how the majority's conclusion runs counter to the intent of the drug laws:

"But if we treat the bong water as paraphernalia, the same defendant would receive a fine of no more than $300 dollars and a petty misdemeanor conviction that would not go on his or her criminal record. The disparity in the severity of the sentence between these two possible charges is enormous. This enormous disparity in sentencing severity creates ambiguity as to how the legislature intended the drug statutes to apply to the facts of this case."

Finding ambiguity in whether the legislature intended to apply the term “mixture” to bong water, he turns to the rules of statutory construction to resolve it:

First, it appears the legislature wanted to impose more significant penalties on serious drug offenders without also imposing those same penalties on minor offenders.

"Treating bong water as a mixture capable of sustaining a first-degree felony controlled-substance charge does not meet the purposes, aims, or objectives of the legislature when it established the weight-based system. Bong water is not marketed or sold by dealers, large or small, nor is it purchased by consumers. It is not even ordinarily consumed. Bong water is usually discarded when the smoker is finished with consumption of the smoke filtered through the bong water. A person is not more dangerous, or likely to wreak more havoc, based on the amount of bong water that person possesses. The bong water is no more dangerous than the bong itself, because both are used to facilitate consumption without being consumed. Thus, there is no reason to believe the legislature intended to treat the bong water differently from the bong, and there is even less reason to believe that the legislature intended to treat bong water so seriously as to presumptively mandate a more than 7-year prison sentence for possessing two and one-half tablespoons of bong water.

As stated earlier, I believe this result to be absurd and a threat to public confidence in our criminal justice system."

He adds:

"I conclude that it is also unreasonable to interpret our legislature‟s laws as punishing Peck‟s possession of two and one-half tablespoons of bong water as a more serious crime than the possession of 24 grams of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. Bong water is normally not consumed, and Peck would likely have disposed of it had the police not seized it."

Bottom line: The majority's position is indeed silly to the point of absurdity and not only undermines confidence in the state's drug laws and justice system, it makes a mockery of it.

The bong water was at best, paraphernalia. There was no evidence presented that this defendant intended to ingest it or shoot it. The narcotics cop had not participated in the search and had no experience with smoking. Yet, the majority credited his opinion, which was based on his anecdotal experience.

It would be laughable, except it's possible a woman may do 86 months - seven years - for possessing 2.5 tablespoons of bong water.

Misplaced is finding Minnesota to be a carnival of contradictions.

See you tomorrow.


  1. WOW, the world is an idiotic place right now...

  2. You're not kidding. When I saw the story on the local news the other day I was dumbfounded.