Friday, April 27, 2007

"Save Bernie's Farm" - Update

The "Save Bernie's Farm" benefit sponsored by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws raised $10,000 to help Bernie Ellis in his fight to keep his farm from being confiscated by federal authorities. Read more about the benefit at Chronic Discontent. The article also mentions some folks I'm acquainted with from around and about: Greg and Ginny Welsch, who did much of the groundwork to establish Radio Free Nashville and remain active in its operation; and Dan Sweeton, longtime activist, journalist, and labor leader who I met back in my Green Party days.

The closest thing we have to an alternative newspaper here, the Nashville Scene, also has a fine story on Bernie in this week's edition. Writer Jeff Woods hints at the government's possible motivations for wanting his farm:

Ellis bought his first piece of the property in 1973 for $6,500, and he’s been adding on to it every since. He figures the place is worth close to $1 million now.

Which may have been why the federal government went after Ellis in the first place, instead of leaving the case to state prosecutors. It takes a lot of money to fund the war on drugs. Ellis’ farm must have made a tempting target. The Drug Enforcement Administration denies this. Harry Sommers, special DEA field agent in Tennessee, says, “It’s not about wanting the money. We enforce the law. That’s what we do. If you grow marijuana on your land, then your land is forfeitable under the law.”

Ellis’ lawyers contend the government doesn’t enjoy carte blanche power to seize the farm. In court papers, they argue that it would violate the Constitution’s prohibition against excessive fines because it would be “grossly disproportional” to Ellis’ crime: “Not only did the underlying criminal case involve a nonviolent crime, but it also involved no victims and, in fact, demonstrated that Mr. Ellis acted to actually benefit other individuals, hoping to alleviate needless suffering at the end of those individuals’ lives.”

All Bernie Ellis was trying to do was help ease the pain of some sick friends and acquaintances. He never accepted a dime's payment for what he grew. In fact, the law may have treated him better had he been a dealer. Four years probation is more than sufficient payment for whatever harm Ellis supposedly did to society, and at this point the authorities need to leave Bernie and his farm in peace.