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American Commits Suicide in Taiwan Court Over 4-Year Cannabis Sentence

An American man convicted of growing cannabis in Taiwan slashed his throat with a pair of scissors last week after being sentenced to four years in prison.

Tyrel Martin Marhanka, 41, was rushed to the hospital but could not be saved, the Changhua District Court said in a statement. He leaves behind a wife and two children — a son in second grade and a daughter in kindergarten.

From the Taipei Times

According to witnesses, after the Changhua District Court judge read his ruling, Marhanka turned to the translator, who told him the sentence, before Marhanka was heard saying: “Four years?”

The translator reportedly informed Marhanka that he would have a chance to appeal the decision, but the American said he wasn’t interested. According to the Central News Agency, Marhanka had lived in Taiwan several years and worked as an English teacher, but he lost his job after being charged in the case. 

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Court officials said Marhanka had smuggled into court a pair of scissors, which he’d separated into two sharp blades. In the video below, a witness and hospital staff member tell the New York Times what happened. 

Marhanka was arrested in April of last year and charged with possession of cannabis and other narcotics. Police reportedly found more than 200 cannabis plants, 195 dried cannabis plants, and 10 opium poppies at a rented house. At the time of arrest, he told authorities he grew the plants as a hobby and that they were intended for his personal use.

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The New York Times reports that the incident is likely to raise questions about security in Taiwan’s court system:

Last year, inmates in southern Taiwan used scissors from a workshop to take guards hostage. They broke into a prison armory to seize firearms, which six inmates used to kill themselves.

A four-year prison term is by no means the harshest penalty dealt to cannabis growers in Asia. Singapore, for example, treats cannabis infractions with caning, life imprisonment, and death sentences. But the sad case of Tyrel Marhanka is a reminder that cannabis prohibition, and the outrageous sentences that often accompany it, have all-too-real and profoundly painful consequences for both consumers and their families. 

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