By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
If Steve Treleaven had a dollar for every time a fellow inmate had told him that there was no way he could have received a 20-year sentence just for growing some pot on his land, he would be a rich man. And if he had another dollar for every time that he had been told he would never end up doing the whole sentence, he could be running for governor. Instead, he is sitting alone in the visiting room of the shiny, new U.S. penitentiary in Atwater, about 300 miles north of where he spent a carefree childhood in Van Nuys and a few million light-years away from the life he had now hoped to be living.
In his letters out, he describes himself as POW number 08656--023. Like tens of thousands of others across the country, he is a prisoner in the war on drugs, a war that has been widened over the last few months so that it is now part of a more popular and comprehensible war on terrorism. Any regular television watcher is now familiar with the commercials in which contrite young people admit to having helped to kill a judge or a policeman because, by using drugs, they contributed to the funding of international terrorism.
The ads, produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, suggest that any American buying drugs could end up financing terrorists, ”whether you‘re shooting heroin, snorting cocaine, taking Ecstasy or sharing a joint in your friend’s back yard.“ The government Web site, which displays the campaign and the reasons behind it, explains the new policy thus: ”As America recovers from the loss and destruction of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, government officials and policymakers are focusing on the link between terror and drug trafficking.“
The logic may seem a little wobbly, but this is not a story where logic plays a leading role. Just when it seemed that judicial attitudes toward marijuana and cases like Steve Treleaven‘s might be changing and when many European countries are relaxing cannabis laws, the keys in the doors of places like Atwater are being given another twist. And terrorism is being used as an excuse for keeping those doors locked.
The 46-year-old Treleaven probably went to school or hung out with -- or sold some weed to -- readers of this publication. They may remember a handsome, easygoing young man with piercing blue eyes and thick wavy dark hair who graduated from Polytechnic High School in 1974 and who was always up for any good times going in the Valley. ”Everyone smoked pot back then, it was so easy and non-threatening,“ says Treleaven as he settles down for what will be a three-hour conversation. Back then, it seemed only a matter of time before marijuana would become legal, he says, and he found that selling weed to his circle of friends was an easy way of making money. ”Then, somewhere along the line, the country decided it was a major offense.“
In fact, Treleaven’s first brush with the law came in 1981 when he was busted for possession. It was a warning shot. He was sentenced to a series of weekend detentions, and concluded that there were smarter ways to live his life and simpler places than L.A. to do so. He loved the wild and skiing, and was planning to move to Colorado when a side trip to see a friend in Idaho made him realize he could achieve his own private dream right there. He had already done some construction work, and once there started out doing odd jobs and eventually formed his own small company. He met a woman, Mollie, settled down in Sandpoint with her, and had a son. It was in many ways the perfect life. He even became that archetype of suburban normality: the local kids‘ soccer coach. ”It was the greatest fun I had in my life,“ he says.
But Treleaven had a brother on whom the sun was not shining so brightly. A Vietnam veteran, his brother had acquired a heavy drug habit and along with it many attendant problems. He had been diagnosed HIV positive and was a sick man. His buddies down in Arizona, where he was then living, had told him that one way to deal with the pains and the eating difficulties associated with the medicines he was taking for his illness was to smoke marijuana. He remembered that little brother Steve knew all about that world, and contacted him to ask if he could help out.
As it happened, Treleaven’s brother‘s request coincided with a friend in Idaho suggesting that he and Treleaven grow some weed together in the woods. As a builder, Treleaven could construct a shed which they would conceal underground and in which they would grow the marijuana. It worked out fine. Treleaven sent some of his share of the weed to his brother, who smoked it, recovered his appetite and regained his health. His brother also supplied others who had the same illness, in what was a sort of unofficial medical-marijuana club.
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