What happens when side-hustle culture, relaxing cultural norms around cannabis, and the draconian overhang of the Drug War collide in the Deep South?
Caleb Cavin worked, until last Friday, in the sheriff’s department in Catoosa County in northwest Georgia, on the outskirts of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Georgia is a laggard in liberalizing its cannabis laws. While personal weed consumption has been decriminalized in large cities like Atlanta and Savannah, the rest of the state still treats marijuana as a dangerous scourge — to be countered with harsh criminal penalties. Holding more than an ounce for personal use is a felony under state law — as is cultivation, possession-with-intent-to distribute, or any attempt at sale, according to NORML, with several of those charges carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of a year in jail.
As recounted to the media by Sheriff Gary Sisk — a self-described “tough on crime” Republican — the sheriff’s office received a tip about deputy Cavin’s illicit bake sales back in November and immediately alerted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to probe the matter. This unquestionably sound use of taxpayer dollars and state police resources quickly exposed the married couple’s tasty drug caper.
Caleb, along with his wife Calya, were booked and jailed Tuesday for allegedly “manufacturing cannabis-laced edibles for resale” and “using mobile device applications to complete illegal transactions.” Announcing the charges against the couple, as well as Caleb’s firing, Sheriff Sisk said: “It is disappointing to learn of a sworn officer violating their oath to serve our community honorably,” adding that he holds his employees to the “highest standards of integrity.”
Reached by Rolling Stone, Sheriff Sisk referred questions about the alleged pot plot to the GBI. State investigators would not provide details about what kind of marijuana edibles (brownies? cookies? gummies?) were sold or what app was used. The scale of the Cavins’ alleged home-baked edibles enterprise is also unknown. “We don’t have any additional details to share about the investigation at this time,” says Nelly Miles, the GBI’s director of Public & Governmental Affairs.
According to the sheriff’s department, Caleb, 33, and Cayla, 31, now both face felony charges for:
- possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute
- possession of “drug-related objects”
- use of a cellphone “to facilitate a felony drug transaction”
Additionally, Caleb Cavin is charged with violating his oath as a public officer, also a felony. According to county records the pair were jailed on bonds initially totaling $25,500. But Caleb Cavin is now being denied a bond on the violation-of-oath charge.
What’s missing from the litany of criminal charges and colorful allegations is any evidence that the Cavins’ suspect cannabis startup caused anyone, anywhere, any harm whatsoever. Indeed, the only evident societal cost in this case appears to be the public burden of investigating, incarcerating, and prosecuting two otherwise productive members of Georgia society.
The bust underscores ongoing absurdity of the nation’s disparate marijuana laws: A New Yorker can now legally light up a joint on a city street, and dispensaries are as common as convenience stores up and down the the West Coast; but prosecutors in prohibition states continue to throw the book at small-time pot peddlers, while the federal government unaccountably persists in classifying cannabis as a more dangerous drug than fentanyl and other opioids, which were linked to 100,000 overdose deaths in the last year.
The nation faces immense challenges in 2021, and ending the war on pot — and making the world safe for side-hustling sheriff deputies — does not appear to be a front-burner issue for Democrats in Washington right now. Then again, given the deep economic and psychological tolls of the pandemic, perhaps it should be.