Sandra Bland Tested Positive for Marijuana, But Does It Matter?

By May Wilkerson 07/28/15

Reports of Bland's marijuana use appears to be a distraction from the dubious circumstances of her arrest and death.

Sandra Bland
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Officials have made it very clear that Sandra Bland, who died in the Waller County Jail in Texas last week after a traffic violation, had marijuana in her system at the time of her death. But should that matter?

As Sharda Sekaran, of the Drug Policy Alliance, explains in a Huffington Post op-ed, coverage of Bland’s pot use is irrelevant, and part of a long history of marijuana being used to demonize black people killed by police and to distract from the larger issues at play.

Bland’s death is being investigated as a homicide, though authorities say she seems to have hanged herself in her cell. According to early autopsy results, there were no obvious signs of a violent struggle, leading authorities to rule her death a suicide.

Her initial arrest, captured on dashcam video showed her being verbally harassed and threatened by the cop who pulled her over. The video shows the officer attempting to pull Bland out of her car and threatening her with a Taser, leading to a physical confrontation.

At a news conference to discuss the preliminary findings of Bland’s autopsy, officials “heavily emphasized” the presence of marijuana in her system. "At this particular time, I have not seen any evidence that indicates this was a homicide," said Waller County assistant district attorney Warren Diepraam. He then added: "I can say she tested positive for marijuana.”

One prosecutor reportedly claimed that Bland’s positive test for THC suggests that she was impaired prior to her arrest. But marijuana use is extremely common, and would neither explain nor validate her treatment by the cop who pulled her over. The drug, which can remain in a person’s system for up to four days, also would not explain her death three days later.

So why bring it up? Back in 2013, a small amount of THC was found in the toxicology report for Trayvon Martin, the black teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. In a New York Times op-ed, neuroscientist and Columbia University professor, Carl Hart, explained that this "reefer madness" excuse was being used to justify his murder.

“Regardless of how intoxicated Mr. Martin was, the research tells us that aggression and violence are highly unlikely outcomes of marijuana use,” he wrote.

In the case of Sandra Bland, a positive THC test seems again to be presented as a distraction from the dubious circumstances of her arrest and subsequent death. However, the distraction does raise one significant concern, which is that Bland may have used pot while in jail.

The toxicology report found 18 micrograms per liter of THC in Bland’s system, which is enough to cause significant impairment. "I don't think it's possible to rule out the possibility of use while in jail," said University of Florida toxicology professor Bruce Goldberger, who reviewed the report for The Associated Press. He says Bland was “impaired” at the time of her death.

If she used pot while in custody, this could indicate potential negligence by jail staff, Sekaran notes. The way Bland was treated in jail is far more relevant to her cause of death than the amount of THC in her bloodstream.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.