Recipe for a Life Sentence: Mix Two Kinds of Prohibitionist Idiocy

Mix hash brownies with two kinds of prohibitionist idiocy.


When Jacob Lavoro, a 19-year-old from Round Rock, Texas, learned that he could go to prison for the rest of his life over a pound and a half of cannabis-infused brownies and cookies, he was surprised. So were his father, his lawyer, and, judging from the plentiful press coverage, many other people. How could baked goods that are legally sold in Colorado (and soon in Washington) trigger a sentence of 10 years to life in Texas?

As Mark Brunner, first assistant district attorney for Williamson County, which is prosecuting Lavoro, explained last week, the jaw-dropping penalties the teenager faces illustrate how one kind of prohibitionist idiocy compounds another (although that is not quite the way Brunner put it). First, Texas law treats drug offenses involving "resinous extractives of cannabis" much more severely than offenses involving marijuana buds. Second, when calculating drug weight, Texas, like many other states, includes "adulterants and dilutants."

Lavoro was arrested in April after police found 1.4 pounds of hash brownies and cookies in his apartment. They also found some additional hash oil and marijuana, but the baked goods alone were enough to make him guilty of a first-degree felony.

Under Texas law, possessing more than 400 grams (about 14 ounces) of cannabis concentrate is punishable by a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life. By comparison, the sentence for possessing the same amount of marijuana is six  months to two years. In other words, the minimum sentence for cannabis concentrate is 20 times the minimum punishment for marijuana.

The rationale for punishing offenses involving extracts more severely is that extracts are more potent. But the typical difference in THC levels between concentrates and buds is nothing like 20 to 1.  While the THC content of hashish (cannabis resin) can be as high as 70 percent, the federal government's Marijuana Potency Monitoring Project reported that the average THC content of hashish seized in 2008 was 23 percent. Likewise, hash oil, which is more concentrated, may contain as much as 90 percent THC, but hash oil seized by the government in 2008 averaged just 6.5 percent (down from almost 25 percent the previous year).  By comparison, the average THC content of high-quality marijuana seized that year was 11.5 percent, and some super-strong strains exceed 20 percent. The THC numbers from seizures are not necessarily representative, and they vary widely from year to year. Still, it's clear that any given batch of hash or hash oil might be about as potent as a bag of buds, or even weaker. But Texas will still treat it as 20 times as bad.

It gets worse. Lavoro did not have anywhere near 14 ounces of hash oil, the cutoff for the 10-year minimum sentence. But because he mixed hash oil into brownie and cookie batter, the weight of the baked goods was counted too. Brunner, the prosecutor, explains: "If I take 1 gram of hash oil and mix it (dilute it) into 500 grams of brownie mix, eggs, water, vegetable oil, etc., I now have 501 grams of a controlled substance. Not 1 gram, but 501 grams. I have taken a low-level felony and made it into a first-degree felony."

Unlike Texas's unusually harsh hash penalties, the practice of treating any mixture containing a drug as if  it consisted entirely of that drug is quite common. It makes life easier for police and prosecutors, who can pretend that a kilogram of cocaine is a kilogram of cocaine, no matter how diluted it is. But that approach can result in spectacularly unjust outcomes, especially in cases involving LSD, a highly potent drug that weighs much less than the "carrier" containing it. Under federal law, distributing 10 grams or more of LSD (or possessing that amount with intent to distribute) is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for a first offense, 20 years for a second offense, and life for a third offense. Since doses of LSD typically range between 50 and 100 micrograms, 10 grams of pure LSD would be a lot—something like 100,000 doses. But since the weight of the carrier is included, all you need to get 10 years (or more) is a few sheets of blotter paper, each containing any detectable amount of LSD. If you were old-fashioned enough to use sugar cubes, three doses would be enough to trigger the mandatory minimum.

The same sort of weird weight-based logic is at work in Lavoro's case. A pound and a half is a lot of hash oil, but it's just one batch of hash brownies. Texas law nevertheless treats the two as one and the same. Even crazier, because of the distinction between cannabis and cannabis extracts, Lavoro could have made equally potent brownies with buds, and he would be facing a minimum of six months instead of 10 years. Even the most enthusiastic pot prohibitionist would have to concede that such disparate treatment makes no sense.

There may be a way out for Lavoro. While the minimum term if he is sentenced to prison would be 10 years, first-degree felons sometimes get probation in Texas. According to Brunner, a defendant in Lavoro's position "may be eligible for a term of community supervision (probation) not to exceed ten years." A couple of years ago, the singer Fiona Apple was busted in Sierra Blanca, Texas, with enough hash (four grams) to trigger a prison sentence of two to 10 years. Yet the only time she served was a night in jail after her arrest. Although Lavoro is not quite as famous, maybe he can work out a similar deal.

However things turn out for Lavoro, his predicament illustrates the extremes to which politicians can be driven by a blind, unreasoning hatred of psychoactive substances. To put anyone in prison for baking cookies that make people giggle—whether the sentence is one year, 10 years, or life—is beyond absurd, especially now that Americans can openly buy such treats from state-licensed stores elsewhere in the country. At some point this sort of confusing contrast has to make prohibitionists reconsider the wisdom and fairness of using violence to stop people from getting high.

Maybe even in Texas. "As prosecutors we are bound by what the law is," says Brunner, "not what the law should be or could be. In Texas possession of THC oil is illegal, whether it is sitting in a tiny jar on the shelf or baked into an big batch of brownies. It is illegal—period. Unless the law changes, we will continue to prosecute such cases."

That sounds almost like a cry for help.

This article originally appeared at Forbes.

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  1. I shall plant my derp flag here:

    Chicago Communists march with Occupy dolts

    1. Wow.. useful idiots being manipulated by other useful idiots. It’s like an idiot singularity.

    2. Yet they’ll continue to vote for more power for the government and less power for themselves.

    3. Very derpy.

  2. Texas legislators put hours of hard work into these laws, listening to and critically analyzing hours of testimony from experts on all sides of the issue and put thoughtful effort into crafting fair legislation that would have no unintended consequences and that would in no way be targeted to throw business at for-profit treatment and prison industries. How dare any of you shit all over that hard work.

    1. The feds should confiscate all of Texas, since a Texan was found with illegal molecules!!!

    2. . . . put hours of hard work into these laws

      What do you mean the sex was bad? I put 6 hours into it.

    3. And they pour their heart and soul into those six months that they actually work, they DESERVE the 18 months’ time off that they get! 😛

  3. Bill Nye and Rachel Maddow discuss climate change. Bill shows up around the 6 minute mark.

    1. I made it through half. Honestly, I’d rather listen to the occupy commies. When they espouse stupidity, it is less damaging.

  4. “As prosecutors we are bound by what the law is,” says Brunner, “not what the law should be or could be. In Texas possession of THC oil is illegal, whether it is sitting in a tiny jar on the shelf or baked into an big batch of brownies. It is illegal?period. Unless the law changes, we will continue to prosecute such cases.”

    Not realizing that the mic was still on he continued “Well, unless of course the individual involved is a member of the law enforcement community, or is politically connected, because how else is the system going to function? I mean, those campaign funds don’t just raise themselves, you know? You have to have favors to trade in exchange for them or the whole thing breaks down, and you have to have the guys with the guns to make sure that there are consequences for not paying your protection money. Sure, every once and a while some civilian catches lighting in a bottle by finding a sleazy lawyer who can exploit some naive judge to get around it, but that’s a rare occurrence, and doesn’t have any lasting impact on the system. And anyway, those douchebags all have friends and families that we can use to settle the score up later. So, how much should I put you down for?”

    1. They also work for the governor who could tell them to drop it.

    2. They have complete prosecutorial discretion. Brunner is a liar.

    3. And, if he wants to be bound by law, why not choose natural law and the Constitution instead of some man made rules that go against our right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness?
      Thankfully, people have always ignored laws that, well, tell us how to live our lives. No law governing lifestyle has ever been effective, nor ever will. Unfortunately, there will always be many, like this prosecutor, that believe it is their mission to change people and millions will ALWAYS suffer because of people like this. These people simply can’t understand the simple concept of living your own life and leaving other people alone and it is people like this that are the SOLE reason for the quote about the tree of liberty – it would not need refreshing if people didn’t want to tell other people how to live.

  5. Joan Walsh explains the nature of projection; explains that Obama got elected because he makes white people feel good:

    1. I know a black woman that made me feel good this morning. 😉

      1. Your woman made you pancakes for breakfast?

    2. Well he Definitely makes Chris Matthews feel good. Like all tingly in his special place.

          1. Chris Mathews: King of the Douches

      1. Tingles. I wish I could wipe that from my memory. In fact, I wish I could wake up and find out that this whole Obama thing was just a creepy, creepy nightmare.

        God, everything about him and his supporters creeps me the fuck out.

        1. Creepy Obama supporter? I have the perfect pic for that:

          1. Is that a boy or a girl?

  6. From my “the mask has been thrown off” file, progs call for the lynching of Clarence Thomas:

    1. “I don’t know, because I’m all about peace, but I would say torture.”

      Did I get that right?

    2. If these people had real power we would have gulags and firing squads within weeks.

    3. The brightest attendee at 3:09

  7. OT: Hold on folks because I’m sure this will shock you.

    In his first major show of philanthropy, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a splash by announcing his plan to give $100million to help turn around Newark, New Jersey’s public schools in an appearance on Oprah in 2010.
    But nearly four years later, Zuckerberg’s money has run out, having been spent mostly on labor contracts and consulting fees with no noticeable improvement in student performance, a report in the New Yorker reveals.

    1. get the smelling salts, I think I’m going to…shrug and say “I hope he doesn’t do that again.”






    3. “…spent mostly on labor contracts and consulting fees …”

      What the fuck did he think they were going to do with it? It did not get like it is because they didn’t have any money. It got like it is because…oh hell never mind.

      Serves the idiot right.

    4. Zuckerberg could give the entire $17 billion value of Twitter to the Newark public schools, and in four more years the money will have run out, spent mostly on labor contracts and consulting fees with no noticeable improvement in student performance.

    5. Spending more on education doesn’t work anyway. At least some connected people got to wet their beaks!

      Seriously, no one thought that if the money went to the kids, it would help them, right? Money doesn’t change g.

  8. I shouldn’t watch “Feasting on Asphalt” right before I take a motorcycle to the store to buy steaks….


  9. Ms Garofalo spins her conspiracy theories with Keith Olbermann.

    1. Those may may be the two dumbest people on the planet. Seriously.

    2. Dear god, why would I want to go and watch that?

  10. Thank God Texas is the land of the free, unlike those oppressive tyrants in California or Illinois!

    Truly, the Republican party is all set to usher us into a wonderful future of liberty and freedom from oppression.

      1. Texas: A place where government is so small they’ll imprison you for life for pot brownies.

        Truly, if Texas only had a more powerful and intrusive government, it would be a progtopia.

      2. Also, Krystal Ball is unbelievably hot. I mean, she’s no Jedidiah Bila because holy fuck, who is, but she’s still a very good looking woman.

        She’s lucky that when God took her brain he gave her gorgeous eyes to make up for it.

            1. Not only should she not have been forced to issue a statement about those pictures, but there should have been absolutely no consequences other than declaring Krystal Ball an American hero.

    1. Christie/Cruz 2016 !!!

    2. Yes, freedoms have abounded in TX since it was founded. One of their first mass actions was agreeing that 150,000 slaves from the other rebel states could go there to avoid being freed. The rest of their history they’ve been pretty much about “let us dig the oil and refine it and pollute as needed and not pay a dime for the privilege”.

      Now they are the low-wage capital of the country.

      Still, they gave us Molly Ivins, Hightower and Ann Richards……so they aren’t all bad. Janis Joplins is pretty cool too, but she hightailed it outa there.

  11. But nearly four years later, Zuckerberg’s money has run out, having been wasted.

    Quick, Zuck, to the Batmobile checkbook!

  12. Progs sure like using children as political props:

  13. In case anyone is wondering why I am posting so much, my car broke down Saturday, so I am stuck at home. What a pity. I planned on hiking in the Wichita Mountains today.

    1. I’ve never heard of the Witchita Mountains. I’m looking at pictures on Google. It looks beautiful. Sorry to hear about your car. Seems like it would have been a nice way to spend the day.

      1. It’s my fault for driving a 29-year old car. Should be an easy repair though. The engine cranks, and the battery is good. Probably some electrical thing. Once I have it running, I will be getting a newer car.

    2. You have nothing to apologize for, keep ’em coming. I admit I torture some of my prog family with what you post. They haz a sad.

      1. I’ll try to find some new derp. I don’t know if I can stand to watch anymore Krystal Ball.

        1. 🙂

          On the plus side, I’m sure it also makes our resident leftie trolls foam at the mouth.

          1. Funny, in light of the events of the past week, the guy saying “the government can do health care better and cheaper than private industry, look at the great job the VA does.” If only he’d have known a few years later, the VA would be exposed and now bipartisan legislation is in Congress to permit vets to go instead to (gasp) private insurers.

    3. Wichita? Mountains? In Kansas? Didn’t science actually prove that Kansas was flatter than a pancake?

      1. The Wichita mountains are in Oklahoma, not Kansas. As to the flatter than a pancake comment, it’s been proven that Illinois is actually flatter than Kansas – although I have no idea why anyone cares.

  14. This commentariate is in dire need of a good pot stirring. I don’t say this often, but Ann Coulter was right: Libertarians are too overly inclined towards groupthink.

    Here are a few of thoughts for many here to think on when they leave the bubble:

    1. Libertarian =/= Conservative…for…fuck’s…sake.
    2. Most progressives are not evil, they just don’t think about politics all day long, so they have no unified theory and thus are easy to rebut.
    3. Those progressives that are evil (many academic professors, feminists, race baiters, etc.) deserve your scorn.
    3a. However, there is a large part of the Republican Party (SoCons make up about 20% of the electorate, and an even larger part of Team Red), and they are just as evil, statist, and worthy of scorn as are the above mentioned progressives.
    3. The dumbest people in the world are ESFJs, and they can be both Team Red and Team Blue.
    4. I know it feels good to be part of a team, but don’t forget how fucking mind numbingly stupid people start to become once they become captivated by the team mentality.
    5. You’re libertarian (emphasis on the small l), therefore you think. Don’t forget to think for yourself.

    1. Libertarians are too overly inclined towards groupthink.

      You must be new here.

      See any thread about abortion, immigration, intellectual property and/or copyright, and whether Abe Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, or LBJ is the worst President of all time.

      1. Gotta be a progtroll, Eric that is.

      2. I’ve seen a lot of threads about abortion. While 100% of libertarians should fall between

        “I don’t care what you do”
        “Well, I care personally but it’s not the purview of the gubment, so butt out”…..

        They don’t. In fact, many are instantly exposed as “anti-libertarians”.

        Libertarians – based on this bunch – are political thinkers who failed to think. Or, even more accurately, who know just how things should be – but vote for people who do the complete opposite of it…..

        Or, those who think actually doing things is just as easy as thinking and spouting about them…

        If we ever really found out how many members here are on the gubment teat, it would be informative. The most “tea party” guy I ever met was an employee of the forest service! Funny stuff – I PAY PEOPLE to talk about getting rid of their own livelihoods. If you talk further to them, they’ll say their job is valuable. Only theirs.

    2. What’s an “ESFJ”?

      1. ESFJ is one of the 16 personality types identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. People with an ESFJ personality type tend to be outgoing, loyal, organized and tender-hearted. According to psychologist David Keirsey, approximately 9 to 13 percent of the population has an ESFJ personality type.

        Extraversion: ESFJs gain energy from interacting with other people. They are typically described as outgoing and gregarious.

        Sensing: ESFJs are more focused on the present than on the future. They are interested in concrete, immediate details rather than abstract or theoretical information.

        Feeling: ESFJs tend to make decisions based on personal feeling, emotions and concern for others. They tend to think more about the personal impact of a decision rather than considering objective criteria.

        Judging: ESFJs are organized and like to plan things out in advance. Planning helps people with this personality type feel more in control of the world around them.

        1. Thanks. I now remember taking some sort of Myers-Briggs test when I was in college. I was a somewhat rare type that loves to amass information.

          1. Well, maybe not actually rare, I just remember there only being one other person in the class of 70 or so who had the same result.

          2. Well, maybe not actually rare, I just remember there only being one other person in the class of 70 or so who had the same result.

        2. ESFJ is one of the 16 personality types identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator


          Next subject.

  15. its awesome,,, Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out

  16. So if put a drop of hash oil into the Pacific Ocean, I’d get a trillion year sentence?

    1. If texas were on the pacific ocean, yes.

  17. Worth reading, must say. Loved the title ‘Recipe for a Life Sentence’ and the stuff shared here fits perfect. Feeling great and confident after reading it. Thanks a tone.

  18. As prosecutors in Texas, you should be bound to seek justice. That should be your first duty, and it’s one you’ve obviously decided to ignore.

    Time for some new prosecutors.

  19. The p.r. image of Texas as some sort of sanctuary of freedom and proving ground for rugged individualism couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s rapidly descending into a violent eugenics nanny-state hellhole.

    All newborns are now subject to seizure by the state and their blood subject to search for genetic defects. Obligatory medical treatment may ensue.

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