Driving through the Mississippi Delta, Patrick Beadle had to offer his respect to B.B. King.
A Jamaican-born Rastafarian musician whose social media presences lists a Grants Pass home base, Beadle, 46, was on a cross-country trip when he was pulled over in Madison County, Mississippi, on the morning of March 7, 2017, Mississippi Today recently reported. In the car was nearly three pounds of marijuana, which Beadle said he obtained legally in Oregon with his medical marijuana license to help treat the chronic pain in both of his knees after years of playing college basketball.
In Oregon, he might have faced a civil fine for possessing too much marijuana at one time. But it was a different story in Madison County, where he was arrested and charged with trafficking in a controlled substance, an offense with a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. In July, an all-white jury took all of 25 minutes to convict Beadle, who is black.
On Monday, Beadle — a spoken-word artist who performs under the name of BlackFire — was sentenced to eight years without the possibility of parole, the Clarion Ledger reported. Under the Mississippi penal code, a trafficking conviction does not allow parole or probation. Beadle’s attorneys indicated that they planned to appeal.
Beadle’s case highlighted the splintered nature of marijuana penalties across the United States as more states move toward decriminalization or legalization while others remain resistant.
During the course of his trial, prosecutors had conceded that, beyond the large amount of marijuana stashed in his vehicle, there was no evidence of trafficking, such as a scale, bags for distribution, large sums of money or weapons, the Clarion Ledger reported. As a result, Beadle’s attorneys urged Madison County Circuit Court Judge William Chapman to sentence Beadle for simple possession instead. But during Beadle’s sentencing hearing this week, Chapman declined, saying he must have respect for the jury’s findings.
“Judge, I’m asking you for mercy for my son,” Beadle’s mother, Tommy Beadle, said during his hearing, according to the Ledger. She added that it was part of Rastafarians’ religion to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes. “I wouldn’t stand here before you if my son was trafficking in drugs. As a mother, I’m asking you to please don’t lock him up behind bars.”
But while it was enough to earn some leniency, it was not enough to stave off a prison sentence. Chapman, after taking the circumstances into account, wavered from the 10-year mandatory minimum to give Beadle an eight-year sentence.
“This is not the typical defendant you see,” Randy Harris, Beadle’s trial attorney, told the Ledger. “He is not a drug dealer.”
During the trial, Beadle’s legal counsel argued that he had been a victim of racial profiling and denied that he crossed the fog line, which was why police claimed they had pulled him over in March.
For this reason, the case also brought renewed attention to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed in 2017 against Madison County that claims black people there are targeted aggressively by the police while going about their everyday lives. The suit claims that they are regularly subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, both in their homes and on the streets, in their cars and on foot, in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments.
Oregon law allows those with medical marijuana cards to possess 24 ounces, or 1.5 pounds, of marijuana at one time. Civil penalties for violating the statute could cost $500 or more, and under federal law even people who purchased marijuana legally are not allowed to transfer it across state lines.
Oregon legalized medical marijuana in 1998 and recreational usage in 2014. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts for recreational use, and 30 states and the District have legalized medical marijuana. By the time Beadle is out of prison, as his attorney Cynthia Stewart noted, according to Mississippi Today, Mississippi’s laws could even change.
“In five years, this may not even be a crime,” she said.