Marijuana Can't Kill, But Marijuana Prohibition Certainly Can

Today’s New York Times City Blog features an article about a court settlement between New York City and Jamie Rutkowski. Who is Jamie Rutkowski? Until New York City police decided to arrest her for minor cannabis possession—in a city that is supposed to be issuing civil tickets— locking her up in police detention, creating a health hazard for the young woman with diabetes and ultimately paying her $125,000 in damages, no one knew who she was.
Now, all cannabis consumers in the United States—notably in municipalities and states that have reformed their cannabis laws with decriminalization laws and patient protections for medicinal use—should cite Ms. Rutkowski’s case settlement as precedent against overzealous law enforcement agencies who choose to physically arrest and detain minor cannabis offenders, rather than issue them a civil fine, similar to a speeding or parking ticket.
Kudos to Ms. Rutkowski and her attorney Joel Berger for 1) challenging the NYC police department’s infamous practice of arresting and detaining for many hours minor cannabis offenders and 2) for making it ironically clear that even an arrest on minor cannabis charges can create serious health concerns whereby an adult who chooses to consume a non-toxic and relatively safe recreational drug like cannabis (or, has the drug recommended to them to consume medically by their physician) can quite literally be placed into a life or death situation.

“They could have killed me over a joint,” Ms. Rutkowski said. “Something needs to be done.”

After thousands of years of human use, there is little-to-no scientific evidence that moderate cannabis use is harmful to the individual consumer or society in the whole. However, there is overwhelming and abundantly clear evidence that Cannabis Prohibition can be deadly for individual consumers, law enforcement personnel and those involved in the currently illegal and untaxed businesses of cultivating, transporting and selling cannabis.
Disgustingly, in a city that, since the late 1970s, is supposed to have true ‘decriminalization’ laws for cannabis possession cases, New York City continues to nearly lead the nation in per capita arrests for simple cannabis possession cases (approximately 43,000 cannabis possession arrests annually; constituting nearly five percent of all annual cannabis arrests nationwide) as well as having one of the most racially imbalanced arrest rates for minorities (approximately nine out of ten cannabis arrests in NYC are made against minorities).

After Diabetic Woman’s Arrest, a $125,000 Settlement

Her decision to smoke a marijuana cigarette outside a Manhattan bar where she was attending a bachelorette party landed Jaime Rutkowski in jail, threatened her life and lead to a lawsuit that on Monday yielded $125,000 from the city.
On Oct. 16, Ms. Rutkowski, who has diabetes, said she was thrown to the ground and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana outside a club on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side.
Stress elevates her blood sugar levels and at the nearby police station house, the blood sugar meter she uses was confiscated. She relied on the meter to determine how much insulin to inject into her system from an insulin pump inserted in her stomach. An overdose could be life-threatening.
The police eventually called for an ambulance more than three hours after Ms. Rutkowski had been taken into custody. Emergency medical technicians found that her sugar level was almost four times the normal level, dangerous enough to take her to Bellevue Hospital Center.
Ms. Rutkowski and her lawyer, Joel Berger, filed a suit against the city and the officers involved in part because they hope it will alert the the Police Department to the needs of diabetic prisoners.
“The settlement is so high because a woman nearly died,” said Mr. Berger.
Mr. Berger also said Ms. Rutkowski’s crime was “trivial.” He added: “Almost any jury was not going to be exactly shocked by the nature of the offense. They’re not going to view this as the crime of the century.”
Ms. Rutkowski was charged with a class-B misdemeanor and received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which means that she was not fined and that after one year her case will be dropped and sealed.
Elizabeth Thomas, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said, “We believe the settlement is in the best interest of all the parties.”
The Police Department’s aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws has led to an increase in arrests for possessing small amounts of the drug. While many of those arrests result in fines but no jail time, they do typically result in spending a night in jail.
“They could have killed me over a joint,” Ms. Rutkowski said. “Something needs to be done.”
Mr. Berger said the police did not have a specific protocol to deal with diabetic patients, something that he believes needs to be addressed. “Police officers need to understand that when they arrest a diabetic, there are potentially life-threatening effects,” he said.
Ms. Rutkowski said she would use money from the settlement to pay student loans and to further her education. A graduate of Temple, where she studied chemistry, she said she’s interested in pursuing a degree as a doctor of veterinary medicine. “I’m going to try and make something good out of a terrible situation,” she said.

96 thoughts

  1. The law was warned and see what happend. I guess we can go one at a time. (Stand in marijuana line not bread line.)

  2. I think Ms. Rutkowski should have gotten a much larger settlement. I think hitting these “fascist regimes” in the only place they feel it, the money belt, is the only way they can be made to understand that we are human beings with all the same rights everyone else has. I, too, am diabetic. It was wrong of them to treat her that way. A number of years ago I was arrested on a case of MISTAKEN IDENTITY, by the police department of a small southern town. I was denied my medication overnight and then TRANSPORTED to another small southern town where I didn’t even have medicine. I was released almost 24 hours later and when I got home had to go to the ER to get my blood sugar down to normal. It was over 400. Oh, yeah, and the food I was given and expected to eat was completely inappropriate to my diet, I wasn’t even given food to eat at the other towns police department. When I checked into suing both police departments I was told it would cost more than I ever would get back. Really? If I’d had the money I would have immigrated elsewhere. It is very hard to see in this country today the country I was born into.

  3. She can be the Rosa Parks of marijuana legalization. Rutkowski has given us steps closer to legalization. Let’s have Potimism!

  4. Sadly there is a loophole for public use, two of them actually. First is that showing your pot and paraphernalia in public is still arrestable, second if you are in a public “plaza” you aren’t even allowed to smoke a cigarette. NYC isn’t about freedom, its about money, and there’s lots of money in civil and traffic violations, its terrible exploitation.

  5. people it will never change..i tried drinking to relieve stress because random testing by the employer was stressing me out..almost died from i’m left with no stress relief..if i owned a gun i would go on a fuckin killing rampage because the laws will never change,.. our goverment is hooked on arresting us to maintain it’s so called balance it has is total and complete corruption, they control what we do, see, and hear, as well as tell us what to do in the privacy of our own home..i tried going to work after a night of drinking a few times..either went home sick , was unproductive, or was a danger to those around me, took meds to control anxiety once wrecked my what will it be..society’s leaders to the gallows or a lame fuckin life till we die? Your choice..let’s all get together..organize and take back our freedom !!

  6. What the Cops did not have a specif protocol for dealing with a Diabetic patients? Being 54 years old it really scary the hake out of me just knowing what the cops will do to a person smoking a joint. I do not believe this is the first time a sick person has been arrested at that jail. No there a lot more that is going on here.( WAR WAR WAR ) Yep that what it will come down to. Our far father must be real a sham of us. One of the reason my Dad fought in ww2 was to keep our police and any government from doing this to us.

  7. I am no more outraged by this then I am by ANY random cannabis smoker being jailed. Your freedom is being taken from you, and any additional injury is just kicking you while you are down already. Ultimately her situation could have been resolved with rational drug policy.
    It’s hard to not sound like a bunch of whiners, but seriously we are held down by ‘The Man’ more then just about any other group, anymore. Gays are more accepted then potheads, which is odd since you would think we would be accepted first (not that hating any group is right).
    I share MLK’s dream that someday all mankind will see each other as brothers and sisters and learn not to judge others for the choices they make in their personal lives.

  8. Arresting people for cannibis is just wrong. Don’t the Police have some real crimes to investigate?

  9. Can someone explain why this woman was thrown to the ground? It’s always unbelievable to read stories about law enforcement treating marijuana users as they would an
    armed robbery suspect.

  10. Im glad tha someone stood up for themselves but this has nothing to do with marijuana other than she smoked it when she got nailed. More over it has to do with her diabetes. Who knows if she had number one or number 2 matters.. The people want and scientific way to go about the marijuana adgenda while others want to reach in their pockets and hope there is more cash. Scientist agree(other than those payed by governments)that marijuana has medical value and can have more value if allowed the room to research the narcotic. F the governments view when it reguards lobbied views.

  11. Weird how there was a double homicide in my town and yet a “pothead” is arrestd every 40 seconds in the United States, and there is still no one convicted for this trial. btw it was two kids and had bags over their heads to suffocate them with their hands tied.. Thanks sooo much poilice department you get the workers and forget the murders..

  12. I wonder if someone can come up with a continually updated list of how our politicians vote on bills such as HR 2306 so that we as a community can know exactly who to vote for in the next election. Cannabis legalization may not be the only thing going on in our society of concern, but it is certainly important enough to warrant our collective votes. I also agree that she was not awarded enough. Lets keep the pressure on the uninformed and intolerant people.

  13. i’m talking to her right now and iasked her why they threw her to the ground. She was outside with her friend and the cops were in plainclothes and grabbed them physically so they tried to get away. when she got away he tackled her. would u go willingly with someone who claimed to be the law without proper i.d.? i wouldn’t. look what happened to that 8 yr old who got chopped up. you can’t trust anybody anymore. when you’re a girl in the city and someone grabs you you’re first instinct is to get away and thats what they did. it was a matter of an instinctual reaction to a stranger putting their hands on her before they could properly identify themselves

  14. How can her record be sealed. Isn’t her arrest record public? Try getting a newspaper to black out your name.
    You are never expunged? With digital archives, your life is never deleted. I love this country. the land of the free. over grow the govt.

  15. Thrown to the ground? You know, they’re really lucky she didn’t get a festering wound over this. (Diabetics are prone to wounds that have a hard time healing.) If she had lost a limb (or worse!) over this, this lawsuit would be a hell of a lot bigger.
    And really…. over a joint? It’s not like she was smoking a gun. I never knew joints could be so dangerous and life threatening! /end snark.

  16. What do we need jackass politicians who will vote against us as soon as someone pays them more anyway? We as Americans have the right to introduce a ballot initiative ourselves and they cannot say no if we have the necessary number of signatures.

  17. Such police officers, wasting their time bothering about cannabis, are worse than the criminals at large on the street. They are just bullies hiding behind a badge, using their authority to practice sadism. Bravo on the settlement. Should have been in the millions. Every police officer in NYC should be required to attend a class educating them on A. the law as it relates to cannabis, and B. cannabis, a worthwhile medicine, not a cause for alarm.

  18. CDXX Communion for 07.19.11
    To my brethren of the Genesist Faith
    Genesists believe that God [gave us] Manna in Genesis I:29,30,31. Do you?
    And God said – Every herb bearing seed – To you it shall be for food/meat – I give you every green herb for food/meat – God saw – Behold it was very good.
    29. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed, to you it shall be for food/meat. 30. And to every beast on the earth, and to every fowl in the air, and to everything that creepeth on the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food/meat. 31. And God saw everything that he had made, and Behold, it was very good, and the evening and the morning was “The Sixth Day.”
    Establishment Clause.
    “Without exemption (circumscription – qualification) no person(s) shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
    Today’s Thanksgiving.
    Lord of both body and mind – we are thankful for our freedom of worship, thought, speech, and expression; the freedom to be seen and heard, the freedom to Observe * Experience * Gain Wisdom.
    The Bible [any Bible] – the Supreme Law of Creation – and – the Constitution – the Supreme Law of the Land – are the only to references I require.

  19. Im glad the woman isnt physically hurt because of the ordeal. But i was even happier to read that she won her lawsuit. Its always the pot smoker that’s the one paying; with money and their future. This federal prohibition on cannabis needs to end, to many lives have been ruined already. Im sure at least a dozen people were arrested for cannabis in the time it took me to write this. Their lives forever ruined by unjust laws. Even if there arent that many people put in jail for cannabis use, if they are arrested for cannabis they will have a felony charge for the rest of their life, unless they’re one of the lucky ones that either live in the right state or get a sensible judge. It’s time for this to end.

  20. Ms. Rutkowski is one of the lucky few to survive.
    There has been a lot of deaths in jails cells this year.

  21. The Feds are out of touch. The military spending has caused us to be a war machine without many wars. But we’ll find someone to bomb. It’s the American way! We’ll also make the police busy by arresting pot victims. This logic is insane. Arrest and Incarcerate keeps lawyers, judges, cops and prisons a steady diet for yankee society. The Feds need their wings clipped.

    they need to legalize and make cannabis once again our #1 cash crop. look at what the government pulls in off taxes out of one county in cali. If legalized,and manufactured,and distributed worldwide… Our nations 14.7 TRILLION dollars of debt would be substantially decreased if not completely caught up within just a couple years. The President who does make this happen would be our countries savior. Like the Jesus of past presidents.

  23. Back in 1983, my then boyfriend and I went to Negril Jamaica for 3 months, one day during my stay, I was relaxing at Rick’s Cafe on the cliffs, there were about 20 large loud and pompous men. I asked one of the bartenders there who these men were. He informed me they were New York City cops. These men consumed more gange and alcohol than should have been humanly possible in my 5 hours that I observed. Yes, ALL were smoking, drinking and just out and out rude to all staff and those around them. Yes, I got a chance to see New York’s finest in full action…..a bunch of hypocrites I say. Just an FYI.

  24. Marijuana is the prohibited drug in our society and most commonly used in many developed countries. Medical studies have shown that the active ingredient in marijuana delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can bring health benefits to some patients. The impression that these benefits were significant, voters in California, Arizona and other 13 states approved initiative allowing the use of medical marijuana for patients in certain conditions.

  25. I’m surprised the amount of money she got was so small. Seems like we always hear sums in the millions when things like this are litigated. The amount seems pretty fair to me. She gets a little justice, but the city, i.e. the taxpayers, are not saddled with making up lost revenues in the millions.
    I very surprised the NYC Police would not have had a protocol for diabetics in place for anyone arrested. This is certainly not the first diabetic they ever encountered.

  26. 30. Fresh Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 2:25 am
    Isn’t it rather obvious – that the Luciferian Party does not want to save our nation – they want to “sue as hell” destroy it – and – the bulls eye is our Constitution. I mean – how can they dominate the world with this one little rogue nation pulling their plug all the time. Wait til the “Thought Police” come and haul you off – never to be seen again – for having your own thought.

  27. Does anyone know exactly where the $125,000 that was awarded came from? Did it come directly from the State’s budget, city budget, or perhaps the budget for Law Enforcement? Personally, I wish the amount would have been higher; add an additional zero to the end. And, I think it should have come directly from the Police Dept that arrested this poor victim. That, my friends, would have shut down their facist ways in a hurry and sent an undeniable message to leave us all the hell alone unless we are engaged in a real criminal activity! If that bankrupted their police dept, oh well, we don’t need that kind of enforcement.

  28. P.S. to 37
    How could I have been so stupid to have forgotten the most important item on the Luciferian’s hit list – God. Does Lucifer sound better than God? Does the North American Union sound better than the United States of America? Does toilet paper sound better than the Constitution? Does “Yes Master” sound better than freedom? “IT’S UP TO YOU.”

  29. 38. Your are right Don WHY should the people of this country have to pay for this.? The officers have their own mind don’t they? If i gropped someone the same way they did i would be in jail for attempted kidnapping. Were they working at the time? If so couldn’t one pull out their badge and show proof first? Crazy how those made fun of thruout school go and get a badge to hide behind. Typical bullshit.

  30. The Department itself should pay for this one or make the officers pay it and maybe it would stand as an example for other officers to not cross the line. give it they do have a stressful job. That does not excuse their actions tho. Just like one of us we have rules that they should have to be accountable for.

  31. It’s really sad that I would not have been aware of this (and many other stories of this nature) if not for NORML getting this out! We all need to continue to give NORML as much support as we can as we all try to fight for our freedom and against this kind of injustice. I’m really pissed off at the mainstream media for turning a blind eye to this cause. I believe the general public would be all over this kind of thing if only they were aware of it. The amount of coverage they gave the Casey Anthony trial got the public all fired up. Why can’t they give even 10% as much coverage when people suffer because of marijuana related infractions??? I’ve read that people incarcerated for minor marijuana crimes have committed suicide. If not for prohibition, they just might still be living relatively happy lives.

  32. This is just another reason for marijuana to be legal throughout our great nation. This woman would not have had to go thru what she did if our law makers and our president would see the writing on the wall. It is time for the people to stand up and let our government know just how wrong they are in keeping the marijuana prohibition to continue. I think the lady should of been awarded more than what she got.

  33. Your tax dollars at work once again!
    It’s time to defund and disband police departments. Replace them with citizen militias/patrols headed up by a county sheriff. Volunteers already provide EMT services, firefighting, cleanup and other community functions. Some police departments utilize unpaid reserves too so it’s not like we will have a problem turning over the “keep things down to a dull roar” stuff over to the citizens of the USA, citizens who are tired of paying so much in taxes for such poor service and the resulting problems.
    An elected sheriff is also much more accountable to the public than a police chief, which means each county gets the law enforcement level and style the majority of it’s citizens choose.

  34. Of course that poor woman did’nt enough money , theirs still 100 yrs of prohibtion to answer for. So how do they pay for that. They must be held accountable for all crimes againt THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. How about an American federal government for a change? We are supposed to be the best not the beast.

  35. I am jaime’s mother and the way she was handled by the NYPD is just DISGUSTING. She is 4’11” and weighs 110 lbs. She was thrown to the ground without them saying they were the police. She was handcuffed and her feet were shackled for more than 24 hours, They never gave her food or water (for hours). She was left to go to the bathroom struggling to get there with her feet shackled and the door would not close (right next to the men’s holding area). They would not give her the insulin from her purse or the kit to take her blood level. It was in her purse in the next room. They kept her hand cuffed and legs shackled in the hospital as well. The officer would not give the nurse permission to take them off. They also gave her the run around when she left. They told her that her purse was in one station, when she got there it was in another. When she got there (across town) she was told that they made a mistake and that it WAS at the first place. She did not eat for over 24 hours. It was freezing out, she had no coat. Her hands and legs were full of blisters (not great for diabetics). Her shoulder was injured, etc. SHE COULD HAVE DIED. My husband called the station when we found out she was there and promised he would look out for her and make sure she was not detained long. BALONEY. She should have gotten $1 million…… She is a highly intelligent girl who will be a vet someday. She should not have been treated like some homeless person.

  36. I forgot to ad to my statement for my daughter that the police officer who arrested her and did these horrible things to her is now suspended for a dui in December.
    He also refused a breatholizer. SO much for the NYPD.
    He shouldn’t be suspended – he should be fired for costing the city the $$$$$$$.

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