Pubdate: Saturday, 05 Sep 1998
Source: Brattleboro Reformer
Contact:   P.O. Box 802, Brattleboro Vt 05301
Author: Les Kozaczek, Brattleboro Reformer staff writer


PUTNEY, VT - George Singleton is African-American and he has dredlocks down
to his waist, so he says he's used to being "hassled" by authorities. In
fact, he said he's been stopped by police officers -- for no apparent
reason -- and searched for marijuana in states such as Texas, Ohio,
Virginia, and California.

Those stops turned up nothing and he was allowed to go on his way.

That was the scenario he envisioned when, on Feb. 27, on a business trip
from California to Indiana, he was stopped by a police officer in Craig
County, Okla.

He admits that, though he was going 10 miles an hour below the posted 75
mph speed limit, his slowing car was above the legal speed limit for the
construction zone he was approaching.

He also thought that the person at the toll booth he had just passed
through might have "pointed me out" to the police officer.  If that were
the case, then the officer might have seen in a background check a
marijuana arrest and two-week imprisonment Singleton incurred 17 years ago,
Singleton said.  He said he has not used marijuana in years.

Still, Singleton said, he knew the routine.  So, when the officer asked to
search his car, Singleton, having nothing in the car except for the herbs
he was carrying as part of his job, assumed he would be on his way in no time.

Twenty-five days later, Singleton, 49, was still in an Oklahoma prison.

"The officer found some mullein and rosemary in my car.  I take them for my
tuberculosis," Singleton said Thursday evening.  "I told him it wasn't

Despite the fact that mullein, a green-leafed, yellow-flowered plant that
grows wild, looks and smells nothing like marijuana, Singleton said the
officer put him in the police cruiser and drove him 10 miles, with his
hands cuffed behind his back, to the hospital for a blood test.

Singleton said he was arraigned on the day he was arrested and bail was
posted at the unusually high $650.

Three days later, test results of the blood samples taken at the time of
his arrest showed that Singleton, according to the official state
transcript, had "negative blood alcohol," and had "no basic drugs detected"
in his blood.

In most states, that would have elicited an apology and a ride to
Singleton's car, so that he could go about his business as executive
director of Hope LA/USA Project.

But, Singleton said, Oklahoma has an unusual law under which it is illegal
to possess any substance that a reasonable person might think was an
illegal substance.  He was not going to be freed.

"When I found that out, all I could think was "isn't this America?"
Singleton said.

The Oklahoma prosecutor could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

Singleton, who said he holds a doctorate in herbology, makes many cross
country drives carrying herbs and other organic matter, as part of his job.
He said that both the "substances" that he was carrying and using are
widely used and freely available over the counter and have never been shown
to have any effect remotely similar to any illegal drug.

Ironically, Singleton said, part of his Hope LA/USA program is to get youth
off drugs.  He also said he uses organic farming techniques that do away
with animal products and pesticides because of their toxicity.

"We transform inner city neighborhoods with agricultural methods rooted in
the old ways of gardening," Singleton said.  Singleton's program, which has
been lauded by Los Angeles law enforcement and other institutions, brings
together members of enemy gangs and other disaffected youth.

Singleton said it took his mother 25 days and $800 to work with a lawyer to
get his bail reduced to the more usual $125 and get him out of jail.

Since then, Singleon has had to return from his Putney, Vermont office to
Oklahoma twice to deal with the case.  Singleton estimates the case has
cost him more than $2,000 in legal, travel, and other expenses.

He is scheduled to return for trial on charges of possessing imitation
illegal drugs on Oct. 8.  He said he faces the prospect of going to prison
for a year or more and isn't too hopeful that he'll be coming back any time

"The prosecutor is up for election this year and I can't see him going
ahead with a prosecution (possession of an imitation substance) that he
thinks he isn't going to win easily.  He isn't going to risk embarrassing
himself publicly in an election year by by being seen losing (a case) to a
black person without a (law) degree," Singleton said.

Oddly, Singleton said, he has yet to receive a ticket for any traffic
violation as a result of the Oklahoma incident. 
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Checked-by: Richard Lake