In a disgusting display of what’s fundamentally wrong with America’s drug war, Shaina Brown, an entirely innocent woman, who harmed no one, finds herself locked up behind bars, slapped with an egregious $1,000,000 bail, later lowered to a still absurdly high $250,000, all for the mere possession of a plant she bought legally, just 200 feet away from where she was arrested. The plant in question? Kratom, a botanical supplement that has been vilified by a select few states and the federal government, despite it being perfectly legal in the majority of the US, including where Brown had initially bought it. It is also extremely safe when consumed properly.
To show just how insidious the state’s war on kratom actually is, we compared some of the recent bail amounts in Escambia County to Shaina’s case. Folks with crimes like strangulation, assault, battery, murder, and sexual abuse all have lower bonds than Shaina.
According to local law enforcement, the arrest happened in the dead of night on April 1, 2023, after Brown crossed over the unmarked state line from Florida, where Kratom is legal, into Alabama, where it is not. For those who may be unaware, kratom is ground-up tea leaves that are consumed by millions worldwide for its therapeutic benefits. Shaina’s mistake? Unknowingly bringing it into a state that has criminalized it.
Now, Brown faces the grim reality of the drug war in America. A plant purchased legally turns into a Schedule 1 substance the moment she crosses that imaginary line drawn on a map, transforming her, in the eyes of Alabama law, from a law-abiding citizen to a felon, with potential charges carrying a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
The charges are shocking, especially considering Shaina’s history of minor offenses: a solitary speeding ticket and a cold check written in 2014 for under $500. A woman who isn’t a hardened criminal is now facing the prospect of losing years of her life, all for unknowingly “trafficking” tea powder in Alabama.
What’s most chilling about these proceedings is the manner in which they’re carried out. Juries are informed that the defendants are charged with possession or trafficking of a Schedule 1 substance, but they’re not told that this substance is Kratom. This omission paints an unfair picture, aligning defendants like Shaina with the likes of hardened criminals involved in the trade of far more dangerous and illicit substances like fentanyl.
For many following this case, it’s become a stark reminder that our war on drugs isn’t about keeping communities safe. Instead, it is an instrument of cruelty that imprisons people over plants, in this case, Kratom, that was obtained legally just a stone’s throw away. And it’s not just Shaina who is in jeopardy, but anyone who unknowingly crosses this unmarked border with some ground-up tea leaves in their possession.
Brown’s case isn’t an isolated incident, but rather a testament to the broader failure of the war on drugs. Despite mounting evidence that punitive measures are ineffective and damaging, these measures remain deeply ingrained in the legal system, wreaking havoc on countless lives. It’s a heartbreaking example of how laws designed to protect can, in reality, perpetuate injustice.
To battle this judicial nightmare, a GOFUNDME legal defense fund has been established to cover Shaina’s legal costs. The ultimate goal? To hire a seasoned criminal-defense lawyer specializing in high-profile drug cases. This attorney is confident that if Shaina is released on bail, he could fight her case effectively in a lower circuit court and possibly have the charges dismissed. However, if Shaina remains incarcerated, the case could end up in a higher district court with a grand jury convened, prolonging the legal battle and substantially increasing the costs.
Moreover, peculiarities exist within Alabama’s legal system that compound Shaina’s predicament. In Escambia County, the arrestee must request a preliminary hearing within 30 days, or they risk not getting a hearing at all. Unfortunately, Shaina’s public defender has yet to request this crucial preliminary hearing, nor has he filed for new bail hearings in a timely manner.
The advocacy group Botanical Action Network (BAN) has been in contact with Shaina, providing much-needed support as she endures this daunting situation. A community has rallied around her, moved by her ordeal and offering solidarity in the face of a seemingly impenetrable legal wall.
Disturbingly enough, Shaina’s case isn’t the only one to highlight the absurdity of state-by-state discrepancies in the criminalization of botanical substances. In a similar, yet even more tragic example, Marshall Price died while in custody of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department at the county Jail in Paragould, Arkansas, after being sentenced to 10 years for possessing the same harmless tea leaves. His death under suspicious circumstances further underscores the human toll of these drug wars and the urgent need to bring them to an end.