A Marijuana Valentine To Jonathan Magbie: Patron Saint Of Unicorns

Or, how the Barr Amendment killed a paraplegic over a single lousy joint…

Happy Valentine’s Day, Jonathan—We have not forgotten you!

By George Rohrbacher, NORML Board of Directors, medical marijuana patient

I love my own children beyond all measure. They range from 33-to-26 years old, three sons and a daughter who’ve returned to me a lifetime of love and four grandkids, with three more on the way. It is from this perspective that I first heard of the death of Jonathan Magbie and continue to think about him today.
In October of 2004, I arrived in Washington DC for a NORML Board of Directors meeting, having just flown in from the west coast. It was late Friday afternoon. In NORML’s office, Allen St. Pierre, our Executive Director, slid the second section of that day’s Washington Post across the desk to me. There, above the fold, was a news story that made me sick to my stomach.
The article was about the death of Jonathan Magbie, a 28-year old black wheelchair-bound paraplegic, a first offender who died while serving a ten-day jail sentence for the possession of one single lousy joint! The year was 2004, it happened right in our nation’s capitol, Washington DC. At the epicenter of the “Land of the Free”, the cops and courts had put a paralyzed man in jail for pot! He died of respiratory collapse on day-four of his ten-day sentence in the custody of our government.
Judge Retchin’s sentence, ‘ten-days-in-the-hole’ was a cruel response to Jonathan’s honest and forthright answers that he used marijuana to help ease his pain and that he intended to use marijuana again, after he was released. After all, the people of Washington DC had voted overwhelmingly for medical marijuana in 1998—it passed with a 69% yes vote! But then, the marijuana prohibitionists in Congress constructed the Barr Amendment, a federal appropriations rider that blocked the implementation of the will of Washington DC’s voters: So, District of Columbia, if you want your operating money from the federal government, to hell with the voters’ say on medical marijuana.
A victim of alcohol, one of America’s lethal but legal drugs, Jonathan Magbie was struck and paralyzed for life by a drunk driver. Shown here with President Ronald Regan, Jonathan Magbie was a national poster boy for MADD, at the age of 8.
Before Judge Retchin was a young man who had been in a wheelchair for 24-years, ever since, as a four-year old child, Jonathan had been hit, with tragic irony, by a drunk driver and paralyzed for life. For two and a half decades, Jonathan was imprisoned inside his own body, a punishment so cruel that no judge’s sentence could ever come close to matching it—until the application of Washington DC “justice”.

As my eyes moved down through the text of the Post story, in this horrible tragedy, I began to see how easily this loss could have been my own. Jonathan was the very same age as one of my sons. When I finished reading and I looked back up at Allen, there were tears streaming down my face. The Washington D.C. courts could just as easily have killed one of my own sons! And over what??? I screamed…Over what??? Jonathan had died in the hands of our government over one single friggin’ joint!!! Jonathan’s family had faithfully cared for him, all his 28-years, despite the horrendous health complications of being paralyzed below one’s chin. But, after just four days in the care of Washington DC’s jailers, they had killed him!
No one took responsibility for the death of Jonathan Magbie. With the help of the ACLU, Mrs. Scott, Jonathan’s mother, successfully sued Washington DC and was recently granted a large undisclosed award. But, as any parent can tell you, no award could ever compensate for the lost of a child.

And, why, oh why, was Jonathan arrested and put in jail, in the first place? MARIJUANA.
Jonathan was just one of the 20-million Americans who’ve been arrested on marijuana charges, and 89% of them, just like Jonathan, for a very small amount intended for personal use. Bush’s Drug Czar, John Walters, recently claimed that jailed marijuana offenders are as rare as unicorns. Well, what about Jonathan Magbie, the Patron Saint of Unicorns, who died for one joint, jailed just blocks from the White House and Drug Czar’s very own plush and cozy office?
The Congressional marijuana prohibitionists continue using the Barr Amendment to tell Washington DC’s voters to take their will and “shove it”. These beltway prohibitionists encourage local D.C. judges that they want to see a lot see more of that good old ‘Retchin justice’. You say a 69% voter approval rating for medical marijuana in D.C.? Well—screw that!! Congress’ pot prohibitionists, like the Republicans’ minority leader, couldn’t care less if DC’s voters had given the measure 99% approval. The arrest, conviction, sentencing and subsequent death of Jonathan Magbie is the ultimate implementation of the Barr Amendment. Jonathan’s blood is on the hands of all members of Congress who voted for it.

The War on Drugs is, in reality, a war on the people who use drugs; coercion and incarceration, the prime tools of the trade. As a way to demonstrate just how tough the courts are with those ‘so-called medical marijuana patients’ in our nation’s capitol, Judge Retchin decided, paralyzed or not, Jonathan Magbie needed to be taught a lesson. Well Judge, what do you think he learned?
And…what should America learn from the death of this innocent and defenseless young man, Jonathan Magbie, Patron Saint of Unicorns?

© 2006 George Rohrbacher and NORML
Confined to a wheelchair ever since he was four years old,
The life of President Regan’s poster boy has needlessly run cold.
No matter that Jonathan Magbie was paralyzed below his chin
He got a death sentence for using pot as his medicine.
Over a single lousy joint, he got hauled up before the law,
Ten days in the hole! Judge Retchin hammered with her claw.
Up under the jailhouse this first-offender would be sent,
A-Gasping for air, Magbie’s jailtime would be spent.
If Jonathan’s story doesn’t break your heart, you ain’t got one
If this family’s tragedy doesn’t cry for Justice, there is none.
What ya’ gonna’ tell a frantic mom how you’ve killed her son
A casualty in the war that can’t be won.
Demented justice…Judge Retchin’s justice…
Prison life is tough, so much tougher when you’re driving with your chin
Officials pointin’ everywhere, “ain’t my fault we killed poor Jonathan”.
Washington D.C.’s voters said medical cannabis was “O.K.”
And then, our stinkin’ Federal politicians blocked the People’s say.
Slowly drowning in a mucus mess
Jonathan’s dead now, let’s call the drug war a success
So what about jailing a cripple, over a little blunt of weed?
Did this cruel and unusual punishment meet some social need?
If Jonathan’s story doesn’t break your heart, you aint’ got one
If this family’s tragedy doesn’t cry for justice, there is none.
What are ya’ gonna’ tell a crying mom how you’ve killed her son
He’s as dead as if you’d shot him with a gun.
Demented justice…Judge Retchin’s justice…wretched injustice
When Jonathan smoked the ganja to make himself feel right,
He puffed away his pain with the safest drug in sight.
That one bud could bring a hurtin’ man, ten un-do-able days in jail,
Then compassion, common sense, and Justice–even human kindness fails.
Burying your child is the hardest thing that’s ever to be done in life.
A death caused by those charged “to protect and serve” cuts deeper than any knife.
We’re left with chains of earthly bondage, now that Jonathan’s been set free,
Let’s ask ourselves, is this the world we want for him, or you and me?
If Jonathan’s story doesn’t break your heart, you ain’t got one
If this family’s tragedy doesn’t cry for Justice, there is none.
What ya’ gonna’ tell a grievin’ mom how you’ve killed her son
Another casualty in the war that can’t be won.
Demented justice…our country’s Retchin justice… it’s a wretched injustice


Listen to George Rohrbacher read ‘The Ballad of Jonathan Magbiehere.

Wedgwood 2009: People of color are arrested and incarcerated for marijuana at rates hugely disproportionate to those of whites. NORML has updated the world-famous anti-slavery medallion produced in 1787 by Josiah Wedgwood. This medallion was the visual symbol of the first successful movement working to end slavery in the world. This image was about as famous, in the 18th and 19th centuries, as the peace symbol is today. Wedgwood produced 20,000 of these anti-slavery medallions. In the campaign to change public opinion on the issue of slavery, the image became a touchstone. The slave trade was finally ended in England in 1807.

NOTE: Josiah Wedgwood’s daughter was Charles Darwin’s mother. Born 200 years ago and on the very same day as Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin’s hatred of slavery shaped his views on human evolution.
NORML challenges other musicians to take this meager effort forward…to write a better song, to record your own version of this song, to perhaps write different music for these words, or produce a hip-hop or rap version, country, blues, or whatever. But—let ART do its part in telling Jonathan’s story.
How can we sit by and not say something about Jonathan Magbie to others? The pain and tragedy of this story is so deep, what else but music could express it? Can you help? Send NORML your recording of “The Ballad of Jonathan Magbie”.

0 thoughts

  1. weed is legal in amsterdam but they have less a lower drug addicted percentage than the u.s. How is that? seeing how “weed is a gateway drug” alchol isnt a gateway drug to worse drugs it is a worse drug in itslef. but it is still legal. While the pedifiles and rapists desease our streets canabis smokers and sellers are filling the jail cells of this country. if you were to move into a new home it would be easier to move there if you knew there was a convicted pot smoker on your street than a convicted rapist on your street. they did the same time in jail they pay the sam price of not being able to obtain a job because of there criminal record, but how justified is that? Someone who ruined another persons life and left them with scars they can never forget, pays the same price as someone who tries to live there life the way they want. not harming others, not even harming themselfs with this harmless drug marijuana. how is it in this “FREE” country of ours we arent allowed to smoke a joint when we please, with out being prosocuted for it?

  2. That is horrible! I am so disgusted right now that I can not even think! I am having issues finding contact information for this ‘woman’ (she is not even a human being in my eyes anymore) I want to write a ‘nice’ letter to her to remind her of what she has done.

  3. So lemme get this right. The med-pot law was passed, and then the “barr amendment” just made it ok to say “screw the voters”?!?
    I thought they just spent a boatload of money to convince us that our votes actually DID count.
    If our votes only count for SOME stuff, it would be pretty dam handy to know in advance which issues came with shredders in the booth instead of polling machines. Just imagine all the gas you could save by not bothering to vote on those issues where they’re not actually counting your vote.

  4. The sad part about this story is it isn’t the last time this will happen. Chris Rock was absolutely right, The government doesn’t give a fuck about you. Most comic routines contain an element of truth. Those of us who use marijuana need to keep on fighting. The war on drugs hasn’t change a thing with regards to supply and demand. I can get as much pot as I want, anytime I want. These government parasites want to give the non-users a false sense of security by falsifying information about marijuana and its use thus justifying their methods of search, destroy, and incarcerate. I’ve been watching this shit go on for 40 years and cannot believe the laws for marijuana prohibition are still on the books. For sure this is frustrating but please continue the fight. If you can’t get involved politically, continue to become involve with the supply and demand aspect.

  5. So, this paraplegic got caught up on the so-called Barr Amendment. Barr? Hmmmm…isn’t that the thick-lipped white boy that was the “libertarian” party’s poster-boy for president in 2008? Bob Barr–a libertarian!!!? Gimme a break.
    That’s one reason why, whenever I run into one of those Libertarian Party recruiters–I tell them, “no thank you, I’m a proud Socialist! You see, the Socialist party wants to legalize Marijuana, just like the Libertarians but, they give the working man a break, unlike the Libertarians. Socialists have no “Rerpublican” stench about them.

  6. We the People can have great joy whenever a corrupt cop, lawyer, judge or politician becomes a VICTIM of CRIME.

  7. What’s more interesting, I think, is that Bob Barr, the politician responsible for the Barr Amendment, changed his mind and became a Libertarian that fights against marijuana prohibition. If he could go back in time and repeal that amendment, I’m sure he would do it in a heartbeat.

  8. What is wrong with the people and the government in great LAND OF THE FREE that we can’t see what the WAR ON DRUGS is really costing us in this country and in Mexico as well…just because our government says drugs are illegal…thousands of people are being killed every day. STOP THE WAR ON DRUGS!!!!!

  9. This story is heart breaking. My heart goes out to the Johnathan and his family. He is the child of all of us who are of age, and we did not protect him from a twisted and sociopathic judge and a warped and fascist legal/political system.
    What happened to this judge? She needs to be removed from any public office or position of responsibility. Surely there is some law to deal with such a monster?
    What are we going to have to do to stop these kinds of things from happening?

  10. MLK Jr. spoke to a large audience in Montgomery, Alabama on the eve of the Civil Rights Movement.
    “I want it to be known-that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination-to gain justice on the buses in this city. And WE ARE NOT WRONG. We are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong-the supreme court of this nation is wrong.If we are wrong-God almighty is wrong! If we are wrong-Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer and never came down to Earth! If we are wrong-justice is a lie! And we are determined here in Montgomery-to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream! And I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love. Love is one of the pinnacle parts of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. JUSTICE IS LOVE CORRECTING THAT WHICH WOULD WORK AGAINST LOVE.”
    Through our love, we will prevail! Through our love, those who abuse the power afforded their duty will feel justice creep into their hearts and know that what they do is hateful and wrong. There is only one way to overcome the power of oppressive government-and I ask you to let your anger focus your potential into possitive work. There is only one way through this current civil rights crisis. We must work together to put love back into justice, to put passion and consideration into our every duty. As unique pieces of this Nation, each individual must work through a desire for love in order to realize its potential to create change. By coming together as a community-indeed a nation-of lovers of freedom and justice, we can overturn the oppression that works agianst “Liberty and Justice FOR ALL!” We must stop the calculated loving of the Supreme Judges of this land, calculated to keep them in power and wealth; a calculated love of money and status. Let us continue daily forward with a sense urgency toward a pending glory, as we work with our gifts to bring recognition of the Righteousness of Freedom. In the end, love rules over the hearts and minds of us all, and it is our duty to encourage love and personal development. Cheers.

  11. The cannabis community should focus public and political attention on our issue the same that other groups have. We are a significant block of voters, but we must let the politicians know that we are here, that we are paying attention, and THAT SUPPORTING CONTINUED PROHIBITION WILL COST THEM OUR VOTES. I believe that NORML could perform a great public service by making sure that EVERY candidate for public office makes his/her position known regarding marijuana prohibition. NORML has chapters in all 50 states, and should make sure that all candidates are asked the question and that their responses are made public.

  12. We need to stick together and pressure the government to do the right thing if they don’t we need to vote them out. and put people in there that agree with us.

  13. This is sick. And people wonder why some of us say “fuck the government.” God bless Jonathan Magbie and may he rest in peace.

  14. when i first read this story, i was almost brought to tears. i have since then told every one i saw this story. some listened, some didnt. i never knew johnathon magbie, but his story is for ever etched in my memory. so i will continue to tell this story to people until justice has been properly served.

  15. This is outrage, really piss me off when i hear a story something like this. Yes, what kind of messed-up country do we live in, Jake? This incident is disheartening and the Obama administration should do something to act it and reform the pot laws. I’m waiting for IL law to be decriminalized cuz I’m from there and Illinois have strict laws, still; never been decriminalized or medical, still waiting 🙁

  16. This is the most disgusting thing I have heard in quite some time and I have heard some real tragic tales. We need to stand up and be counted. Write your senators and congreesspersons and DEMAND that Cannabis be legalized for adults and those who use it for the relief of pain. Keep contacting them.
    flood their mail and e-mail until they have to acknowlegde us.

  17. I almost teared up when reading this… This is yet another powerful post by George Rohrbacher, and I could feel all the pain he did. I will never look at this issue the same again, now I have even more compassion for medical marijuana patients than I ever have before.
    I started a Twitter account just for activism, and this story is the first one I posted there. I am True_World.

  18. This just goes to show how ugly a Government can get when they don’t represent the people but use us as paydays. They dont care about joe on main st. it’s all about the money. Just like the movie the Matrix were all just batteries for the government machine. But instead of energy were used for money. And the DEA are like the agent smith program. Serving the beast but feeding it’s own agenda at the same time. GOD HELP US ALL

  19. If , Michael Phelps was sending the wrong message to kids then is it OK that kids see all those television ads telling us about alcoholic beverages are cool to drink ? Saw a big bottle of ” Bud ” the other day in Northern California on a billboard . Must of been 6 Ft. high . THESE ALCOHOL AND PRESCRIPTION DRUG ADS ARE REALLY THE ONES SENDING A BAD MESSAGE TO OUR CHILDREN . Alcohol is also a gateway drug to Heroin , Meth , Crack and more .

  20. If , Michael Phelps was sending the wrong message to kids then is it OK that kids see all those television ads telling us about alcoholic beverages are cool to drink ? Saw a big bottle of ” Bud ” the other day in Northern California on a billboard . Must of been 6 Ft. high . THESE ALCOHOL AND PRESCRIPTION DRUG ADS ARE REALLY THE ONES SENDING A BAD MESSAGE TO OUR CHILDREN . Alcohol is also a gateway drug to Heroin , Meth , Crack and more .

  21. I am SO TIRED of people being in jail for a plant that GOD gave us. PLEASE GOD HELP OUR BROTHERS & SISTERS

  22. It really is ironic that Bob Barr became a Libertarian; particularly after spewing the typical D.C. propaganda about Cannabis. As a Libertarian myself, I’ve completely lost respect for Bob Barr after reading that.
    I’ve got a very simple stimulus plan that has a 100% chance of being successful, and I’m not some dumb-ass politician who’s preaching to the “sheeple” to get re-elected next term:
    Legalize (ALL) Drugs
    Tax & Regulate the sale of (ALL) drugs
    Grant Presidential pardons for all Federal AND state “non-violent” drug offenders (i.e. possession only).
    Create an economy comparable to coffee that would generate BILLIONS of dollars annually
    Maybe legalization is closer than we think. I mean hey, if we can get a bunch of inexperienced, fast-talking tax cheats elected to high offices of an ever expanding, inept government, surely we can do something remotely intelligent like eliminate the DEA, spend money and resources on more “common sense” initiatives like ridding the planet of scum like child molesters, rapists and serial murderers (and politicians:)
    WAKE UP WASHINGTON! It’s time for “real ACTUAL change” and not just more bullshit political doublespeak.

  23. This case is heart breaking as he was let down by so many different people and government agencies, undermining the effort of the many compassionate people who worked ceaselessly to keep him alive.
    In the end, he was a victim of the game of politics, whether it be the representatives that legislated his criminality or the judge that practiced retaliatory justice.

  24. FUCK you u.s. goverment here i am at home with pot and i will keep smoking it your law means nothing to me just like the people mean nothing to you get in your private jet and go on a vacation so you have enough energy to cast a vote next time you feel like showing up at congress I will grow over 200 plants this year try and get me

  25. This is going straight to my congress man. We can not have this happen again. What a stupid thing they did sending to jail for one joint! The Barr Amendment must go!

  26. Question? If he was not in possession of marijuana would he stil have been sent to jail b/c of the gun? from the research I have done on this he was in possession of both marijuana (which he admitted he purchased to ease his pain) and a gun while he was a passanger in a car driven by his cousin. If marijuana was not in the picuture would he not have been sent to jail for illegal possession of a firearm?
    What happened to him is unacceptable. No one deserves to be treated the way he was treated, it was just plain cruel. But the story here is not marijuana the story is we need jail reform. Poeple that work in jails need to be properly trained to treat and care for disabled people who end up in their ward. Crucial medical attention should not be denied to anyone.
    Society may always be at odds over what should be law and what shouldnt but society should never be at odds on how we treat and care for ohter human beings. Being improsioned shoud not strip you of your right to survive.

  27. Another sad story of DRACONIAN LAW and BIG BROTHER MENTALITY. The so called drug war against the American People caused another casuality of a sick person to use alternative medicine for pain. What were these people thinking of when they put this man in jail for such a minor infraction. There was no sense of human compassion to the victim (WHAT GIVING HIM TEN DAYS IN JAIL). While the judge and the law have have received a feather in their hats, the victim received a grave marker. My sympathy to JONATHAN MAGBIE another victim to the the war on drugs and his rights as a AMERICAN CITIZEN SPAT UPON. DEAD END ATROCITIES to the American People at their best, WHEN WILL IT END, when half of us are in jail and the other half watching us and who will watch the other half.

  28. It probably will never end until we the people truly start doing something about it, not that we currently arn’t. We just need to do more, get more people involved in writing to lawmakers and protesting. I don’t know how much more I can take, I will never stop smoking,I personally know how cannabis helps with chronic diseases because I have a severe case of crohns disease and cannabis has been the best medicine at relieving my symptoms than any conventional one and with alot less side effects.We need to legalize medicinal cannabis, it does too much for people who are sick, without cannabis I sure as hell would not be writing this letter right now, and i’m sure there are real people who are sick that know what I mean, and we can’t keep letting our government incarcarate people who just want to live there depressing lives a little happier,AND a little longer. WE MUST NOT FORGET WHAT HAPPENED TO JONATHAN MAGBIE, AND WE NEED TO TELL THIS STORY TO OTHERS AND HAVE THEM PASS IT ON AS WELL.I’d write more but i’m just speachless. 🙁

  29. Lets just hope it’s another piece of sickening evidence when those conservative fucks are charged with war crimes and inhumanity.

  30. Shove this Barr Ammendment up their collective asses. What a bunch of bull shit hog wash. This gentleman was murdered, manslaughter pure and simple. Lawmakers gone wild.

  31. to question # 88. why should anyone who is confined to a wheelchair be incarcerated? wasn’t jonathan serving a life sentence already, condemmed for a crime he didn’t commit. no doubt the drunk driver was back on the road if it was his first offense or even his second in some states. by vote will our laws change, stop electing the same people, career politicians. look at the mess we’re in as a nation. where has the wealth of america gone? stolen, we’re broke, says the crocodile tears of senators and congressmen who have spent 20 to 30 years in power. become active in the political process, vote against the thieving sons of bitches, write letters, complain to the media and press, do something besides whine. it may come to this…the tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of tyrants…and patriots. our founding fathers would have never stood for marijuana prohibition, and neither would the citizens of america had they said cannabis, because they didn’t know what marijuana was. power grabbing law enforcement used slight of hand to trick people, government propaganda, unheard of or conceived by the voting public in the early 1900’s was used to build a wall around marijuana. it ( marijuana) had far to many uses for the common man and could not be controlled for the tax dollar. it’s about control, how does 65% to 72% of voter approval for medical marijuana go ignored? if we are going to “change” then let out a yell so the deaf bastards who’ve ruined peoples lives for the next generation will hear you. they’ve been in power so long they can’t hear.they’ve grown old and fat, living off the sweat and hopes of every citizen, playing bureaucracy and slapping each other on the back, with a wink and a drink and a snort of coke. now we the people have to pay back the tab accrued by career politicians. vote different next time, hold them accountable, ask them what they stand for on the specific issues. it absolutely amazed me that the people voted for medical marijuana and a governor took it upon himself to override that vote. that’s where (we the people) are.

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