Despite hopes by the prominent marijuana activist that Judge Joseph Galati might grant him a conditional sentence for his role as the “Grand Poobah” of the The Vancouver School of Drugwar History and Organic Cultivation (known as the Herb School), he received a six-month sentence and the forfeiture of about 4.5 kilos of marijuana and hashish (estimated at $42,500), 196 grams of magic mushrooms, 7 grams of opium, and $5000 in cash.
The Herb School provided the downtown community with educational Drug War History Walking Tours, and supplied its customers with high-quality cannabis and other herbs in a safe and clean environment. The School focused on reducing the harm associated with cannabis use and drug prohibition and was located at 123A East Hastings St., next-door to Insite, North America’s first legal supervised injection site.
Early in October, David presented his arguments to the judge at a 3-day sentencing hearing, giving an eloquent and impassioned argument against the prohibition of herbs and painting a picture of himself as a political activist engaged in a legitimate act of civil disobedience. Crown prosecutors attempted to paint David as a greedy drug dealer who was harmful to the community.
Judge Galati seemed surprisingly sympathetic to David and his cause during the three days of testimony, which included submissions supporting David from Harvard Professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon and Canadian Senator Pierre Claude Nolin. In order to fully consider the issue, the judge scheduled the last day of sentencing for October 28, 2009, giving himself a month to make his decision.
In yesterday’s proceedings, the judge maintained his considerate attitude, presenting David in a mostly-positive light as he summarized the testimony of the 3-day hearing, even telling the activist, “In some ways I admire you”.
The judge reviewed the evidence presented by David, the Crown, and other witnesses and acknowledged the widespread use of cannabis as a medicine and substance that could “make healthy people healthier”.
He accepted that the Herb School was largely an “educational” institution whose goal was “harm reduction”, and that Malmo-Levine honestly believed his actions were beneficial to society, and judged this as relevant to his sentencing. Galati would not, however, make a judgment on the specific dangers of drug prohibition – saying that this was not relevant to the sentencing.
At that point, the Judge changed his tone: The Justice system is “the cornerstone” of our government, he said, and “no one is above the law”.
The Judge pointed to David’s previous convictions and the activist’s own comments that his sentence would send a message to other pot activists, and mentioned David’s remarks that a prison sentence would not deter him from his point of view and future activism.
“I hope he is wrong” Judge Galati said, “[…] I feel imprisonment is the appropriate sentence.” He claimed he saw no other choice but to give David a jail sentence, as a conditional sentence, he said, “cannot possibly contribute to the respect of the law”.
He said his decision was based on the fact that David “posses a significant risk of reoffending” and could possibly “endanger” the community. The decision, he said, was “designed to deter David from breaking the law” in the future, but noted that it would be a relatively short sentence (the maximum penalty for David’s offences is life imprisonment).
As part of his sentence, David was given a lifetime ban on firearm ownership, and the Judge authorized authorities to take a DNA sample for the Canadian government’s database.
“He made a lot of concessions that I think are valuable, including acknowledging the ‘harm principle’ more than once,” said David’s lawyer Natalie Dunbar. “I just think that he felt his hands were tied and had no other choice”.
Dunbar felt that David’s unrepentant stance contributed to the Judges decision.
“Even though the Judge said he respected David’s activism, he couldn’t turn a blind eye to the chance he might offend again,” she said.
She expects that David could be released on good behavior in four months, and also suggested that they may appeal the Judges order to take a DNA sample.
David Malmo-Levine is a cannabis activist well-known in Vancouver for hosting the popular 4/20 and Cannabis Day rallies at the Vancouver Art Gallery. David has worked for years with activist Marc Emery, and is a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture Magazine and Pot-TV.
As David was being led out of the courtroom, supporters yelled “we love you David” and shouted disapprovingly at the Judge.
Click here to read more about David Malmo-Levine’s case.
More information on how to write or contact David coming soon…