Illinois Man Sentenced To 4 Years Just One Day Before Legalization Vote
Bad timing or BS?
Just one day before Illinois’ legislature voted to legalize recreational cannabis, a 37-year-old man from Montgomery – Thomas J. Franzen – was sentenced to four years of prison for “unlawful possession of more than 5,000 grams” of cannabis edibles, a Class 1 Felony.
In 2014, the postal service noticed a series of “suspicious” packages going to Mr. Franzen. Postal workers received a warrant and searched a package addressed to Franzen from California. Inside, they found 42 lbs of THC-infused chocolate, which Franzen took to treat his cancer symptoms.
The discovery prompted authorities, including the North Central Narcotics Task Force, to search Franzen’s home. There police found cocaine, paraphernalia, cannabis oil, $2,000 in cash, packaging materials, and postal receipts for packages that Franzen sent throughout North America.
Kane County State’s Attorney, Joseph H. McMahon, released a statement explaining that, “In recognition of the seriousness of Mr. Franzen’s medical condition, our office reduced a 12-year mandatory minimum sentence to 4 years, of which he is required to serve only 2 years.” Speaking with CNN, Franzen’s lawyer said that, “he got the best disposition that was available given the constraints of Illinois law.”
McMahon’s statement continued: “The marijuana-laced product found at Mr. Franzen’s home was not purchased from a medical marijuana business, and […] far exceeds […] personal consumption and is evidence that he is a drug dealer.”
Prosecutors Claim They Acted With “Compassion”
Prosecutors say they acted with “compassion.” The trafficking charge was dropped despite “evidence from state and federal investigators [which] shows that he has purchased and sold marijuana products across North America. […] we also have evidence that he had received multiple packages that raised the suspicion of postal inspectors prior to his receiving the package that led to his arrest.”
Franzen, whose attorney argued that the chocolate was ordered to self-medicate his client’s testicular cancer, was tried 5 years after the raid after arguing that he couldn’t sit through a trial or serve prison time due to his condition.
However, prosecutors did not accept this argument. They said in a statement, “Mr. Franzen’s own physician stated that Franzen’s medical condition would not prevent him from sitting through his trial. Mr. Franzen’s lawyer also presented no evidence that Mr. Franzen had sought to legally purchase marijuana for medicinal purposes after Illinois’ medical marijuana law took effect.”
The state passed a Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act in 2013. This allowed cannabis prescription in severe circumstances. The success of that program encouraged legalization of medical cannabis in 2014, the same year as the raid.
Franzen will return to court on 14 June so the judge can assess medical evidence for Franzen’s medical fitness. At this point, the judge will decide if Franzen will start his sentence.
State of Cannabis Law in Illinois
While Illinois legalized medical cannabis five years ago, the Rockford Register Star reported this May that patients have experienced long delays in accessing their medicine. As recently as this year, up to two thousand patients have reported delays. These have been up to three months, even after receiving approval to access medical cannabis.
Recreational cannabis in Illinois has also faced opposition from police, who expressed concerns about residents driving under the influence of cannabis. Authorities also oppose plans to expunge criminal records of those with low-level cannabis convictions.
Police concerns did little to prevent the passing of a bill to legalize recreational cannabis. The Illinois legislature approved the bill with a vote on 31 May. Illinois Governor Jay Robert Pritzker has not yet signed the bill, but a veto is unlikely. Pritzker has spoken out as one of the leading supporters of the legalization bill.
In a series of tweets, Pritzker stated that: “The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation. This will […] [create] opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance. I applaud bipartisan members of the General Assembly for their vote on this legislation […] In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation.”
Franzen’s sentence outraged some cannabis advocates. However, given that authorities found cocaine as well as more cannabis than legislation (in any legalized country or state for that matter) would allow, he would have faced charges regardless of cannabis’s legal status.
Once the bill has received the governor’s signature, recreational cannabis sales are due to begin on 1 January 2020.