Professional football player Demetrius Harris is the latest high-profile victim in America’s racially charged and backwards war on weed.
According to initial reports from TMZ and a follow-up from the Kansas City Star, Harris was arrested in August 2017 after a routine traffic stop in Bates County, Mississippi turned up 35 grams of marijuana and an unnamed piece of drug paraphernalia. Harris, a passenger in the car, was initially charged with felony marijuana possession and a misdemeanor for the paraphernalia. Eventually, in return for having the cannabis charge reduced to a misdemeanor, Harris was persuaded to plead guilty to both crimes.
Since Mississippi is one of America’s remaining states with hardline reefer madness drug laws still on the books, Harris was called back to the Magnolia State last week for a sentencing hearing, where a Bates County judge sentenced the professional football player to two days in jail, two years of probation, and 80 days of community service. Additionally, as cannabis is still on the NFL’s banned substances list, Harris will be required to enter the league’s substance abuse program.
Even though Harris was taken into custody at the time of the arrest last year, he was not awarded time served. Therefore, the athlete entered a Bates County jail on March 9th, and has since completed the first part of his punishment.
And while two days in jail might seem like a minor sentence, even for possession of a plant that is entirely legal in nine states and Washington D.C., the additional years of probation added to Harris’ time behind bars highlights the unnecessary stranglehold that the criminal justice system has on minor convicts, particularly people of color.
In a new investigation by Rolling Stone into the continued legal troubles of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, who has been in and out of jail on probation violations that stem from a 2008 weapons charge, reporter Paul Solotaroff details how an initially minor charge can lead to a life of court dates and criminal accusations, even for lauded celebrities.
“Here is the trap of our post-conviction system: Defendants, even famous ones, live at the mercy of their judge and probation officer,” Solotaroff details. “It’s one thing to toe the line while holding a nine-to-five. But to live a spotless life while chasing the prize in hip-hop? Now, there’s a manual someone needs to write.”
Similarly, Harris’ life as a professional football player, including traveling out of state to away games, potential media appearances and endorsement meetings, is not conducive to the life of a probationer, despite his undeniably positive societal role as an athlete. Like Meek Mill, Harris will be liable to be sent back to jail for any number of minor infractions, including missteps as small as scheduling conflicts — all for being charged with a bag of weed that could have been purchased legally at a store in any number of states.
Harris will also need to resolve the issue with the NFL, a notoriously anti-cannabis employer, despite the league’s highly publicized love affair with painkillers. Harris is on the last year of his current contract with the Chiefs, and will need to sell himself in free agency next offseason, a task that could prove incredibly hard with a criminal conviction shadowing him at every potential meeting.
Harris is just one of nearly a million people per year who are arrested for nonviolent cannabis crimes in the U.S. Until cannabis reform is adopted on a national scale, Americans, and especially people of color, will continue to be persecuted and subsequently roped into a system that can hold one down for years.
As of press time, the Kansas City Chiefs, Harris’ current team, have not released a comment concerning the tight end’s sentence.
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