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An Oregon man who faced up to 40 years in prison for driving through Madison County with marijuana in his car should spend eight years in prison without the possibility of parole, a judge ruled Monday.
The case started last year when Patrick Steve Beadle was pulled over by a Madison County sheriff’s deputy seconds after entering the county. This summer, the 46-year-old musician was convicted of trafficking 2.8 pounds of marijuana.
On Monday, Madison County Circuit Judge William Chapman sentenced Beadle to eight years under a provision in the law that allows judges to reduce sentences from mandatory minimums if certain conditions are met. Beadle’s attorneys had previously argued that Beadle should be sentenced in line with simple possession, the penalty for which is six to 24 years with possibility of parole.
“But he has been found guilty of trafficking,” said Chapman, who is retiring at the end of the year. “And that’s what the state chose to prosecute him for. That’s what a jury of 12 good Madison County citizens found him guilty of, and I believe my sentence should be in line with those findings of the jury. So he is being sentenced not for simple possession but for trafficking in controlled substances.”
The case highlights an ongoing class action suit by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Madison County Sheriff’s Department alleging the department racially profiles black drivers and pedestrians. It also reveals a stark contrast between the norms to which residents living in states where marijuana is legal have adjusted and Mississippi’s marijuana laws.
A sheriff’s deputy arrested Beadle, 46, in March 2017 after a traffic stop, discovering three packages of marijuana hidden in Beadle’s car. But if a sheriff’s deputy had found Beadle in possession of the same quantity in Oregon, where both medical and recreational marijuana are legal, he likely would have received a fine, according to Beadle’s attorney Randy Harris, who said he talked to the district attorney in Beadle’s hometown.
Though most people charged with drug offenses in Madison County take guilty pleas, Beadle’s was the rare case to go to trial. Between 2013 and 2017, just two people in the county were found guilty by a jury of drug charges.
Chapman maintained that he sentenced Beadle for possession with intent to sell or distribute, the trafficking statute under which a jury took 25 minutes to find Beadle guilty in July.
Beadle’s family and his attorneys insist Beadle, who is black, is not a drug trafficker. During a sentencing hearing last month, they painted him as a law-abiding, practicing Rastafarian from Jamaica who focused his creative energies as a musician performing under the name Blackfire.
An assistant district attorney countered with text messages recovered from Beadle’s phone, which were not admitted as evidence during trial, arguing that Beadle used “music” as a codeword for marijuana when arranging drug deals, but could not confirm that any of those text messages came from Mississippi numbers.
A bill that passed the state House Drug Policy Committee last legislative session would have exempted people with valid medical marijuana cards issued by other states from marijuana possession penalties in Mississippi, provided they possessed an amount legal in the issuing state.
Thirty-one states have authorized medical marijuana across the United States, and recreational and medical marijuana legalization is on the ballot for four states this fall.
Mississippi may soon join that growing majority — as soon as 2020.
A new ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana already has the backing of several influential conservatives in the state. And most recently, Ocean Springs mayor Shea Dobson, a Republican, held a public event last weekend to gather signatures for the ballot petition, which requires around 86,000 registered voters in the state to sign on.
“It will help people with medical problems such as cancer, PTSD and anxiety, and will be good for Mississippi because it will make money for the state,” Dobson told the Sun Herald.
During the hearing, Beadle’s attorney, Cynthia Stewart, said her client would appeal the case.
Beadle, who did not testify during his trial, spoke little during Monday’s hearing, but his mother Tommy Beadle said she’d spoken with him over the phone frequently, reassuring her son.
Tommy Beadle and other family members flew in from Florida, Washington, D.C. and New York to attend the sentencing; Patrick’s father drove from Maryland. Beadle’s mother, who has attended most of her son’s court dates but did not make it to the trial, anticipates returning to Mississippi in a couple of weeks to follow up on the appeals process.
As Beadle walked back out of the courtroom, he faced his family and a small gathering of supporters who attended the sentencing, placing his hand on his chest.
Outside the courthouse, Tommy Beadle said the judge surely knew that the evidence wasn’t there for a trafficking conviction.
“But the system says, the jury says so, he has to satisfy them,” she said. “That’s what he’s doing. That’s what he did. He has to satisfy the system.”