Will Trayvon's Pot Use Help Zimmerman's Defense?

By Victoria Kim 07/11/13

The defense would be "hard pressed" to convince jurors that pot made Trayvon Martin violent, the director of NORML tells The Fix.

Trayvon Martin Photo via

The question of whether marijuana could make someone violent has taken center stage in George Zimmerman's murder trial. The six-person jury can now hear evidence of Trayvon Martin's positive test for THC (marijuana's active ingredient) on the night he was killed, Florida Judge Debra Nelson ruled on Monday. It has been known for some time that the 17-year-old had trace amounts of THC in his system the night of his death on February 26 last year, according to the toxicology report. Dr. Shiping Bao, who performed the autopsy, said last week the amount of THC in his system was sufficient to cause some level of impairment. Though prosecution argued this evidence is of no relevance and should be left out of the trial, the judge overruled their request. Zimmerman's defense argued that marijuana could have affected Martin's judgment that night, and some say that including this evidence in the trial could support Zimmerman's claims that he was beaten by the teen and shot him in self-defense. But Allen St Pierre, director of marijuana advocacy group NORML, tells The Fix that this outcome is unlikely. "[The defense would] be hard-pressed to get the public to believe at this juncture, in 2013, that marijuana causes people to be violent," St Pierre tells us, "the stereotypes that both the government and popular culture have reinforced is that it doesn't make people violent."

Ultimately, the fact that Martin tested positive for marijuana could sway the jury in either direction. "It isn't so much how much [THC] was in Trayvon's system. It's just, what do people associate [with] a kind of lifestyle that uses marijuana and what they might think about this young man as a result," said CNN correspondent Martin Savidge. "It clouds the perception of the victim." Though some believe the evidence will help the defense, others say the prosecution could put a "reverse spin" on the situation, by arguing that the drug is known to make people more mellow. "It can cut both ways," says former federal prosecutor Doug Burns, "You could call an expert to say that marijuana doesn't make you violent." St Pierre tells us that he's heard the words "mellow, chill, apathy, lethargy" used to describe the effects marijuana has on users. "The defense's actions are understandable, considering what they're trying to do, which is rigorously defend their client," St Pierre tells us. "We've seen many criminal defense lawyers say the most outrageous things about marijuana to try to get their clients off." If convicted of murder, Zimmerman could face life in jail.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr