Shawn East is many things. A father. A husband. A Christian. One of the few things that he doesn’t profess to be is a criminal.
By the letter of the law, however, he is also the latter — a few times over. East is a regular marijuana user and has been arrested four times in the past five years for possession of fewer than two ounces of marijuana, with his most recent arrest being March 5.
East now plans to begin speaking out against the criminalization of marijuana in Texas and Ellis County, going so far as to organize a peaceful protest for Friday, April 19 on the downtown square.
“I’m not a bad person,” he expressed. “I don’t go around committing crimes. I just smoke.”
According to the Texas Health and Safety Code, penalties for marijuana possession and sales range depending on the amount. Violations are typically misdemeanors if someone possesses less than four ounces or sells less than seven grams.
Anything greater than that, however, is classified as a felony and can result in jail time and a fine ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.
The 86th Texas Legislature is currently considering legislation that would legalize several hemp and CBD products in Texas. One such bill, House Bill 1365, would allow those with a doctor's prescription to use medical cannabis for conditions including cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder, although it would be through oral consumption and skin application — not smoking.
East said he didn’t start smoking marijuana until his 20s, swearing to only use it recreationally around his social circles. He didn’t consider himself more of a regular user until a few years ago following a fall that injured his back.
"When I stand up or sit down for long periods of time, my muscles are doing all of the work since there’s no discs right there," East explained. "I get a lot of pain because of the muscles.”
East also noted that he does not want to take pills for the pain, as he saw what they did to his mother when she experienced her own health issues.
“My mom passed away with liver and kidney failure,” East recalled. “She used to take a lot of Advil and other pain medicine. I watched her slowly deteriorate taking medicine. I told myself I wouldn’t go down that same route – getting hooked on pain drugs, hydrocodone, or whatever they want to put you on.”
He swore to himself he wouldn’t go down that same road. So he turned to the medicinal effects of marijuana.
East stated that he has been arrested for marijuana possession six times throughout his life, most of those coming while living in Ellis County.
According to Ellis County jail logs previously published in the Daily Light, one of his earliest in-county arrests was in 2015 for possession of marijuana in a drug-free zone. He has since been detained in the Wayne McCollum Detention Center for as long as 100 days after what he says was a single blunt found in his car.
He stated the time served was "excessive."
“I could go to Dallas and get a ticket versus living out here and getting jammed up and arrested,” East remarked. “Twenty miles should not be night-and-day like that.”
According to jail logs on file with the Daily Light, the Waxahachie Police Department has made over 600 marijuana-related arrests over the past five years. And each trip to a jail cell costs Ellis County taxpayers approximately $85 a day, according to a previous Daily Light report.
Some District Attorneys, such as Dallas County DA John Creuzot, are easing their stances on low-level marijuana offenses, as he claimed in a memo that his office had dismissed over 1,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases throughout his term.
His office announced Thursday that they will no longer prosecute first-time misdemeanor marijuana offenses in the county and repeat offenders will be offered a program to keep their record clear after the first offense.
“In Dallas County, African Americans are three times more likely to be prosecuted for misdemeanor marijuana possession than are people of other races,” Creuzot wrote in a memo. “To that end, I have declined prosecution on misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases for first-time offenders whose offenses do not occur in a drug-free zone, involve the use or exhibition of a deadly weapon, or involve evidence of delivery.
However, Ellis County and District Attorney Patrick Wilson stated that as prosecutors, it is their job to enforce the law as it is written.
Under current law, those marijuana violations – and consequences – are very clear.
“Consider how you would feel if I declared that I would no longer prosecute DWI offenses in Ellis County if nobody was hurt during the crime?” Wilson expressed. “It is the appeasement of political forces. It most certainly is not an exercise of blind justice.”
But East expressed that many people who are caught in low-level marijuana offenses are good people and not the criminals they’re often made out to be.
“That’s all they’re getting jammed up for – is marijuana,” East expressed. “They’re getting thrown in jail for 30, 60, 90 days out of their life. It’s ridiculous when you can give them a ticket and let them go about their business.”
He said he was surprised to find out that an 80-year-old couple in his neighborhood also professes to use marijuana.
“Both of them smoke,” he explained. “I was shocked they told me. You would have never thought that.”
East remarked that the couple is just as liable to end up in jail as he was.
East stated he’s hosting a picket protest around the downtown square at 9 a.m. Friday, April 19 to advocate for decriminalizing marijuana. Even if it doesn’t bring about much change, East said it’s important for him to speak out — if not for himself, then for the next generation, who he feels these issues may impact even more so in the future.
“They need to see it’s okay to stand up and fight for something,” he expressed. “If you believe it’s right, then go ahead and stand up for it.”
The Ellis County DA, though, said if a change is to happen, it needs to happen in the 86th Texas Legislature. That’s why he encourages residents to contact their state representative.
“If the people of Texas want to legalize marijuana, then they should go to Austin to accomplish that,” Wilson remarked. “Professionally speaking, it makes no difference to me. But until that happens, the laws on the books today are laws I am duty-bound to enforce.”
East explained that 15 people have already shown interest in attending his protest. He hopes that others come out as well to support this very important issue.
“Sometimes, it takes just one voice to get something started,” East expressed.