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Weed harassment by Georgia cops could help pass legalization in Delaware

Georgia officers searched women’s lacrosse team bus without cause but found nothing, now Delaware politicians are condemning the stop.

A viral video of Georgia cops harassing the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team has University officials calling for a federal civil rights investigation into the incident—and could pressure Delaware Gov. John Carney into signing a pending cannabis legalization bill. 

Delaware House passes legalization bill, but obstacles remain

Delaware State University is one of five historically Black colleges and universities with a women’s lacrosse team. The team was recovering after a road trip to Florida for a tournament, and just wanted to get home safely.

On April 20th, the team made its way home on a chartered bus. The bus pulled over by Liberty County sheriff’s deputies while driving north on Interstate 95.

Officers claimed the bus was illegally riding in the wrong lane. The deputies then stepped on the bus and announced they would be searching players’ bags. It was unclear why a simple traffic stop would necessitate a search of the entire luggage compartment. 

DSU women's lacrosse team photo (Delaware State University)
DSU women’s lacrosse team photo (Delaware State University)

A video taken by one of the players captured the chilling orders given by the deputy in charge: 

“We’re gonna check y’alls luggage. I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana…. But I’m pretty sure your chaperones are gonna be disappointed if we find it… So if there is something that is questionable, please tell me now. Because if we find it, guess what? We’re not gonna be able to help you. You are in the state of Georgia. Marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia. Anything that you can put marijuana in, maybe a device for you to smoke it… a scale, anything.”

Georgia Police

Nothing illegal was found during the search. 

Shortly after the incident, Sheriff Bowman claimed that no personal items had been searched. But police body cam footage directly contradicted that statement.

Further public footage captured deputies rifling through the team’s bags themselves and with a K9 unit. They even searched through an unopened gift from one player’s family, which turned out to be jewelry.

After news of the incident became public, Sheriff Bowman claimed that his deputies followed protocol and that they had probable cause to search luggage after an alert from a K9.

Tim Jones, the Black male driver of the bus, was not ticketed for the alleged moving violation.

An all too familiar feeling

Discussion of racial profiling began to resonate online as video of the stop went viral in early May. 

Anderson wrote in DSU’s The Hornet, that the “majority of the team members had never experienced an encounter with the police, making this a traumatic incident for them.”

“I’m sitting there, and I’m trying to stay calm, but at that moment, I’m so upset and scared and frustrated at what is happening to us,” said coach Pamella Jenkins. Coach Jenkins, the driver Jones, and players Saniya Craft, and Emily Campanelli all told The New York Times about the traumatic experience.

Craft, a relative of Elijah McClain said: “I’ve realized what happens when police take advantage of their privilege and compromise their job. After seeing the police brutally murder my relative, I was petrified for what would happen to my teammates and I.”

“I think the biggest surprise was seeing the dogs immediately pulled out regardless of what the citation was going to be,” said Campanelli, one of the team’s few non-Black players. “That shows the immediate effects of driving while Black, especially through southern states and it makes you wonder how many people this happens to on a daily basis and how many people experience this worse than us.”

On April 20th the team bus was pulled over while driving north on Interstate 95 after a tournament. Officers claimed the bus was illegally riding in the wrong lane, then stepped on the bus and announced they will be checking players’ bags.

Screenshot of Georgia deputies searching women's lacrosse team for cannabis. (Delaware Online)
Screenshot of Georgia deputies searching women’s lacrosse team for cannabis. (Delaware Online)

TikTok influencer “@TheLuncheonLawyer” spread the word in a viral video breaking down all the legal issues with the stop and search. “The fourth amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure,” she said.

In a video with 14,000 likes and almost 400 comments, she continued: “The officers do not indicate that they smell marijuana. They certainly don’t see any marijuana or any other narcotics because we know they would have said that, and snatched that up immediately… This officer has absolutely no reason to begin investigating whether there are drugs on the vehicle based on alleged traffic violation from the driver.”

There will be consequences

Tony Allen, President of Delaware State University, said that DSU plans to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice over the incident. Allen condemned the “misconduct and intimidation” that “humiliated players” by the Georgia deputies. Delaware lawmakers called the incident “deeply disturbing” and said they “stand firmly with the DSU community” in a statement last Monday.

Delaware’s Congressional representatives, Sen. Tom Carper, Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester all called what they saw of the stop “deeply disturbing.” They all “strongly support” President Allen’s decision to “go wherever the evidence leads” with their help. Delaware Gov. Carney also spoke in support of the lacrosse players. 

Sheriff claims there was cause for search

“I do not exercise racial profiling, allow racial profiling or encourage racial profiling,” Sheriff Bowman told reporters. The sheriff added that based on what he already knows about the stop he believes it was legal.

Bowman is Black, and said his office will formally review the stop. He also claimed that deputies found drugs after stopping similar vehicles earlier that morning. The school’s president said he had a cordial talk with Sheriff Bowman, but the two are still not on the same page regarding the incident.

Shortly after the incident, the sheriff claimed that no personal items were searched. But body cam footage directly contradicted that statement.

The questionable stop, the video, and the outrage from Delaware have put Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman on the defensive.

The now public video shows that deputies rifled through the team’s bags themselves and with a K9 unit. They even searched through an unopened gift from one player’s family, which turned out to be jewelry.

This incident could push legalization forward in Delaware

external photo of the brick Delaware capitol building, lit by elegant lampposts at sunset
Will Delaware be the next East Coast state to legalize cannabis? This incident could push lawmakers forward. (Vasanth/Adobe Stock)

The timing of the incident could actually help move legalization forward in Delaware. 

Last Thursday (May 12), the Delaware Senate finally passed HB371. The bill eliminates all penalties for the possession and gifting of one ounce or less of cannabis. The new bill will also forbid law enforcement from warrantless searches on otherwise law-abiding adults if the only probable cause is the odor of cannabis. 

The bill had already been passed by the Delaware House, so Senate passage sent the legalization measure to Gov. Carney’s desk. 

4 New Jersey weed laws that need to change now

Carney, a Democrat, has in the past been very public about his personal opposition to cannabis legalization. But he has been quiet about whether he would veto HB371—and the measure still sits on his desk unsigned. 

Right before voting on the bill last week, the state Senate approved a joint resolution with the House to condemn the actions of the Liberty County Sheriffs deputies, and asked Georgia’s General Assembly to address the issue. Pretty ballsy move for the second smallest state in the nation.

Now all eyes are on Gov. Carney, who must decide whether to allow or reject legalization in his state at a moment when the injustices allowed by prohibition are on stark display. “Carney may be faced with a hard examination of his ‘oppose’ position on marijuana reform in light of the deservedly overwhelming public support for the women at DSU,” wrote Chris Goldstein, a NORML regional organizer and close follower of Northeast cannabis politics. 

Leafly will continue to report on this incident and Delaware State University’s complaint with the DOJ.

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Mehka King

Mehka King has spent his professional career as a journalist and content creator. Since 2017, he has interviewed cannabis activists, politicians, business leaders, athletes, and entertainers about their views on cannabis for CashColorCannabis.com network.

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