Kansas City Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris was arrested this week on suspicion of possessing cannabis. According to media reports Harris was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Cannabis was found in the vehicle and Harris was charged with cannabis possession. Demetrius Harris is now looking at a felony charge in Missouri, which carries a penalty of a $10,000 fine and up to 7 years in prison.
Possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis in Missouri is a misdemeanor. Possession of over 35 grams is a felony offense. Details were not released as far as the specific amount of cannabis that Demetrius Harris was allegedly caught with, but as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) points out, “Possession of more than 35g, but less than 30kg, has often, historically, been charged as intent to distribute.” Harris was not charged with intent to distribute cannabis, which likely indicates that he was very close the threshold between a misdemeanor and a felony. One gram could potentially have been the difference between Demetrius looking at 1 year of incarceration versus 7 years.
Demetrius Harris has been a rising star in the National Football League (NFL). In 2016, he caught a career-high 17 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown (and a two-point conversion) as a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. In early 2016 Harris agreed to a three year extension with the Chiefs, and received the following praise from coach Andy Reid at the time:
“He’s a good football player, and he’s going to do nothing but get better. Every year, he’s made improvements, going to continue to do that. Loves to play. Been a good addition.”
Unfortunately now Demetrius Harris’ football career, and personal freedom, is in jeopardy. All because he possessed a plant that is now legal in 8 states (and D.C.) for adult use, and 28 states (and D.C.) for medical use. In Maine, adults over 21 years of age (Harris is 25) can possess up to 70 grams of cannabis and it’s perfectly legal. It’s absurd that Demetrius Harris can get a 7 year prison sentence for possessing roughly 35 grams of cannabis in Missouri, but had he been in Maine, he could have possessed twice as much and faced no penalties whatsoever. How is that fair? Had Demetrius been in Maine instead of Missouri, he would have continued on with his day and there would have been zero media coverage about the matter because it would have been considered to be legal activity.
It is quite possible that Demetrius Harris was in possession of cannabis because he uses cannabis for wellness/medical purposes. If that was the case, Demetrius would have been that much more protected had he simply been located in a different state. For instance in Oregon, where the Uncle Cliffy team is located, medical cannabis patients can legally possess nearly 700 grams of cannabis for medical purposes, in addition to being able to also possess even more cannabis for adult-use purposes. Missouri is not currently a state that permits medical cannabis use, but a campaign is underway to update Missouri’s failed cannabis laws and legalize cannabis for medical use. Sadly, reform will not come quick enough to help Demetrius Harris.
The math speaks for itself and highlights how ridiculous Demetrius Harris’ arrest was. Ohio treats possession of up to 100 grams as an infraction (not a crime), with a $150 fine. That’s nearly three times the possession limit that results in a 7 year prison sentence in Missouri, and in Demetrius Harris’ case, an NFL career that has needlessly been put at risk. Athletes should be judged based off of their athletic abilities and moral character, and not based off of whether they choose to possess a personal amount of a plant that has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol.
Regardless of how the court case works out, the NFL is likely to hand down a punishment to Demetrius Harris. Harris will now have to carry around the ‘cannabis scarlet letter’ that has needlessly hindered, and in some cases ended, other careers. Despite playing well and being a good teammate, Demetrius will now have to deal with the stigma that comes with an off the field cannabis issue. It shouldn’t be that way. If Demetrius’ only ‘offense’ was possessing a personal amount of cannabis, he should not be punished. Not by the State of Missouri, nor the NFL or the Kansas City Chiefs organization.
When a professional sports league punishes players for off the field cannabis related criminal justice issues, those leagues are perpetuating institutional racism whether they like to admit it or not. All a rational person has to do is look at the math. African Americans like Demetrius Harris are almost 4 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis, even though consumption rates between African Americans and other races are roughly the same. In some parts of Missouri specifically, the racial disparity for cannabis arrests for African Americans is even greater, with African Americans being 18 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis. If an African American NFL player is 18 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis in certain parts of Missouri, they are also 18 times as likely to be punished by the NFL for cannabis compared to their Caucasian colleagues. There’s simply no way around it.
As long as the NFL and other sports leagues support cannabis prohibition, they support and contribute to the needless destruction of athletes’ careers and lives. Cannabis prohibition is a failed, racist policy. A strong majority (60%) of the American public supports ending cannabis prohibition, with recent polling showing majority support specifically for ending cannabis prohibition in professional sports leagues. 71% of NFL players think that medical cannabis should be legal in every state in America, including Missouri where Demetrius Harris was recently arrested. A whopping 76.5% of sports media members support ending cannabis prohibition. It’s beyond time that professional sports leagues (and the State of Missouri) got on the right side of history and listened to the will of the people.
image via Arrow Head Pride