Marijuana vs. meth: Different sentences demonstrate changing standards
"I accepted it because I recognize citizens and the Legislature feel different about marijuana than they do methamphetamine and other drugs, the fact you have no prior felony convictions ... As much as I regret what kind of message I'm sending to others who want to transport marijuana." -- Superior Court Judge Rick Williams
10/31/2013 6:02:00 AM
By Doug McMurdo
KINGMAN - More and more, society's evolving - some would say enlightened - opinion of marijuana is finding its way into Mohave County courtrooms, but rarely has that reality been illustrated more vividly than what occurred Tuesday in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Rick Williams.
Williams sentenced two drug offenders Tuesday afternoon. One got a walk and the other received hard time.
Both are middle-aged. Both were arrested for - and eventually pleaded guilty to - possessing large quantities of drugs. One had a clean record for nearly six decades before his arrest. The other has been in and out of trouble her entire adult life, trapped in a despairing cycle of addiction.
The key difference between the two is one was caught with pounds of marijuana. The other possessed 91 grams of methamphetamine.
Weldon Steinman, 59, by all accounts is not your typical pot dealer. The struggling business owner had never been in trouble with the law in his life before he was arrested last year and charged with importing marijuana for sale.
He has substantial medical issues - his eyes are failing - and his attorney said it is unlikely Steinman will ever again land in legal hot water.
For his part, Steinman offered a heartfelt apology to the court and spoke of the burden of shame his crime has placed on his family.
Even the prosecutor told Williams that leniency would be appropriate for this specific case.
Williams apparently agreed, but he took the time to explain his reasoning.
"The biggest problem I have with this plea is as a matter of public policy," he said. "You're not typical," he said directly to the defendant. "But you're getting a slap on the wrist. Why are we even going with this procedure?"
The question was rhetorical, but Williams answered it anyway.
"I accepted it because I recognize citizens and the Legislature feel different about marijuana than they do methamphetamine and other drugs, the fact you have no prior felony convictions ... As much as I regret what kind of message I'm sending to others who want to transport marijuana."
Williams reduced Steinman's felony conviction to a class 1 misdemeanor and sentenced him to six months unsupervised probation.
While Steinman was in front of the judge, Kimberly Ann Alvarez, 51, sat in striped jail clothes, shackled hand and foot, and cried nonstop. She shook her head in disagreement when Williams spoke of society's shifting view of marijuana compared to methamphetamine.
For once, she wasn't buying what someone else was selling.
Her attorney told Williams what he already knew: that Alvarez has been an addict her entire life.
The defendant had nothing to say to Williams when given the opportunity to sponsor herself. She wanted a five-year term, the minimum, rather than the maximum of seven years.
She knew, perhaps instinctively, that things would not go her way.
Earlier Tuesday, Williams sentenced a man who pleaded guilty to a meth charge and who had no prior felony convictions to a five-year prison term.
"The trouble I have is earlier this afternoon I sentenced a young man who had 14 grams of methamphetamine, not 91 grams like you did, and no priors like you do, to five years."
He sentenced Alvarez to the max, and she has to do that time day for day with no good time credits.
Alvarez cried, as did her family, who quietly sat in the gallery.