Washington D.C.’s decriminalization of marijuana went into effect last week, drawing the wrath of prominent Congress members. Rep. Jason Chaffetz reportedly said D.C.’s Mayor could “go to prison for this.” Federal law enforcement’s war against marijuana has been continuous since Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. However, that war has often shattered lives, as Arthur Mondella’s tragic story reveals.
While the District of Columbia was preparing to decriminalize marijuana, local police and federal agents were conducting a raid on Maraschino Cherries Factory in Brooklyn. Law enforcement claimed to have a warrant to search the factory for violations of environmental laws, but the raid’s true purpose was to search for marijuana. The factory owner, Arthur Mondella, had inherited the business from his father and grandfather. Initially Mondella cooperated with the police. Authorities eventually discovered a secret room concealed by a fake wall. Mondella immediately went to the bathroom.
His sister, obviously concerned, followed. Mondella asked her to “take care of my kids” and then Mondella shot himself. After Mondella’s suicide, police entered the hidden basement. Law enforcement found a 2,500 square foot marijuana farm underneath the cherry factory.
Maraschino Cherries Kingpin vs. Washington, D.C.’s Mayor
Although I drew comparisons between D.C. and Mondella, there are enormous differences. In D.C., the voters had approved a measure decriminalizing marijuana. If D.C. were a state rather than a federal district, Congress would not be as hostile. Mondella, on the other hand, was a private actor growing marijuana in knowing violation of the law. Mondella wasn’t trying to change the law, which would be legal; he was violating the law for, possibly, his own profit.
News coverage of the cherry factory conflict with each other. Most stories quote an unknown police officer claiming Mondella wouldn’t have done any jail time. However, some stories claim the officer wouldn’t have done time for spilling cherry syrup in the water while other stories quote the officer saying Mondella wouldn’t have done jail time for marijuana.
Although Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail for cherry syrup, the idea that Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail over marijuana is laughable. Mondella was concealing what looked like a multi-million dollar farm on his property. Federal prosecutors would have indicted Mondella as a drug kingpin and there is no doubt that Mondella would have served significant time. If Congress is threatening to lock up the mayor of D.C. for enforcing an initiative to decriminalize marijuana, imagine what the Justice Department would do to a man caught running an entire drug operation in his factory.
States across the country might be decriminalizing marijuana, but there’s no doubt that some federal actors still want to win the war on marijuana.