Aug 23, 2018; Costa Mesa, CA, USA: New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) during joint practice against the Los Angeles Chargers at the Jack. R. Hammett Sports Complex.

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Opinion: Onyemata raid by JPSO was disgraceful -- so are our marijuana laws

Seth Dunlap
February 07, 2019 - 6:58 pm

Our country’s draconian marijuana laws are back in the spotlight today after it was reported that Saints defensive end David Onyemata was the subject of a raid at his Elmwood apartment last week by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. 

The details of what led to raid are still coming out, but according to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto a search warrant was obtained after a package addressed to Onyemata was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Buffalo, NY on Jan. 28.  

After completing the search, narcotics detectives found what they described as a “personal” amount of marijuana products.  Onyemata was cited and he received a summons to appear in court at a later date. 

The entire dog-and-pony show seemed to be aimed at Onyemata for the purpose of a public relations coup by the JPSO.  Getting a judge to sign off on a search warrant and to then execute a midday raid of his apartment is absurd at best, and a derelict misuse of public funds and resources at worse, in my opinion.

Some of those products found inside his residence include hemp powder and THC oils similar to those that can be readily purchased and delivered via Amazon and many other online distributors.  Similar products are available at stores throughout New Orleans.  Yet the JPSO included those products in their report as they likely believe it will make their raid somehow appear more justified.

Yes, by the letter of the law Onyemata cannot have marijuana and some cannabis based products in his possession or residence.  JPSO will certainly hide behind the shield of “only enforcing the laws that are on the books.”  Don’t buy what they are selling.

Don’t believe what Lopinto is selling either.   He told the Times-Picayune that, “We issue misdemeanor summons all day long for possession of marijuana.  It’s news because he’s a Saints player.” 

Comparing what happened with Onyemata to what happens “all day long” in Jefferson Parish is rubbish.  It appears the last time JPSO executed a search warrant and arrested somebody for having marijuana mailed to their home was in 2016.  In that instance the guilty party was arrested for distribution of marijuana, with over four ounces of pot, 12 grams of wax, a scale, and other paraphernalia that would indicate distribution.

(Clarification: This was the last time such a raid was publicly reported on.  Sheriff Lopinto said, while he could not give a specific example, there "probably" were other instances where a similar raid was executed, as he cited the "over 20,000 arrests" JPSO makes each year.  We cannot verify Lopinto's assertion's at this time.)

Onyemata wasn’t selling or distributing.  At least not according to Lopinto who said, “It was a personal amount,” when asked how much they found on the premises.

Also, JPSO isn’t executing raids on the homes of Jefferson Parish residents who they believe might possess a “personal level” of marijuana.  What percentage of the parish’s population has consumed marijuana in the past week?  10%?  25%?  50%?  What about the past month or year?   Lopinto’s statement that this type of raid happens “all the time” is absurd on its face.

What’s more plausible, the JPSO looking for the attention of arresting a Saints player on a drug charge, or that they would have done the same to a person nobody knows next door?  If you believe the latter, then there’s no real recent precedent for what the JSPO has done with Onyemata.   I don’t believe athletes or public figures should be above the law.  I also don’t believe they should be singled out by law enforcement for their fame.  We’ll probably never know with certainty if Onyemata was singled out in this way, but the bread crumbs certainly point in that direction.

(Update: Sherrif Lopinto called into "The Last Lap" on Thursday night to again refute the assertion that he or anybody he knows acted on the tip because a Saints player was involved.  See below, at the bottom of the column, for a link to the interview.)

Regardless of intent by JPSO, this case once again highlights the absurdity that are various marijuana laws around the country.  If there’s any good to come of the Onyemata raid and fallout, it’s to highlight how ridiculous it is to use public resources in this way, to crack down on a drug that the vast majority of American citizens now believe should be legalized federally.

Perhaps Onyemata made a mistake by living in Jefferson Parish, where laws governing the use of marijuana remain among the most archaic in the country.  In neighboring Orleans Parish the personal use of marijuana was decriminalized in 2016.  Heck, 10 states in our union now allow for the broad recreational use of marijuana.  Yet authorities in Jefferson Parish believe the best use of their limited resources and taxpayer dollars is to raid Onyemata’s residence for this sideshow?

This isn’t absolving Onyemata from the things he did wrong.  First, it’s an incredibly poor decision to have an illegal substance mailed to your home, regardless of quantity or intention.  Secondly, it’s still against the law to possess or use marijuana where he lived.  Finally, the NFL prohibits marijuana use in their collective bargaining agreement, and Onyemata will assuredly face consequences, including a possible suspension, from the league.

That brings us to Onyemata’s profession as a football player.  His employer, fans, and the NFL expect him to show reckless care for his body eight months out of each year.  Players sustain incredible damage to their bodies each season and the league still doesn’t even offer them lifetime health benefits.  Frankly, the science behind cannabis and marijuana use shows how beneficial it can be to players like Onyemata.  Instead, the league promotes the use of highly addictive opioids and painkillers.  It’s hypocrisy at the highest level.

Not only is it time for Jefferson Parish, and the state of Louisiana, to enact common sense legislation regulating the recreational use of marijuana and cannabis, but it’s imperative the NFL modify their outdated rules governing marijuana use.  This is especially critical considering a large portion of their players now reside in jurisdictions where that consumption is legal.   The NBA is light-years ahead with their marijuana policies and enforcement, where they’ve worked with the players association to craft reasonable policies and shy away from regular enforcement. Once again it’s the NFL playing catch-up.

Yes, Onyemata broke the law.  He’ll face penalties in court as well as whatever punishment comes from the NFL.  However, Onyemata isn’t a villain here.  He’s yet another victim of outdated drug laws overzealously enforced by an attention-seeking law enforcement department. 

UPDATE:  Sheriff Lopinto called in to "The Last Lap" to give his perspective on the raid and subsequent summons issued to Onyemata.  The conversation was enlightening, especially when he told us the action was taken a week and a half ago.  While I don't see eye to eye with the sheriff on all of the issues involved, I appreciated his candor in this conversation.  You can listen to our conversation below:

 

 

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