busted: america's war on marijuana
FRONTLINE's interview with WIll Foster who is serving a  Oklahoma state sentence of 93 years in prison. Interview conducted in the winter of 1997-98.
INTERVIEWER

Tell me about how you first started using marijuana and why?

WILL FOSTER

I guess when I first started using marijuana I was like most children, you know, I was in high school ... I smoked it occasionally at parties. I excelled in high school. I was a star football player. I was fullback, scored lots of touchdowns, played all sports, passed, graduated high school. But, other than that, I didn't use marijuana very much, until, I guess, 1990 when I first started having problems with arthritis and back pains.

INTERVIEWER

What happens when you use it?

WILL FOSTER

Well, basically, I used it as medicine. It wasn't something ... every day. It wasn't something that I had to have. I just smoked marijuana for the relief of pain.

INTERVIEWER

So, when you started using it for your arthritis, how were you getting it? Buying it?

WILL FOSTER

I was buying it on the black market. That was the reason that I decided to start growing it. I didn't know what was in it, what someone could've put in it, the quality, how it was smuggled in. They bring it in in diesel, and, you know, it could have all types of impurities in it, so I started growing it myself so I'd have the purest, natural and know what was in it ...

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about the grow. How did you learn about it?

WILL FOSTER

Well, you can pretty much learn about growing marijuana, I mean, it's pretty much like any type of plant an ivy. I used a cloning process. Once I got my plants that I wanted or the strain that I wanted, I just cloned from them. There's probably a hundred different books on how to grow marijuana on the market.

INTERVIEWER

Did you talk to other growers?

WILL FOSTER

I know a few people who grow marijuana, yeah.

INTERVIEWER

Paint a picture of the kind of community you live in.

WILL FOSTER

I lived in, I guess, a very nice community. I lived right behind a shopping mall ... five-bedroom house, a swimming pool, two living areas, three fireplaces. Nice house.

INTERVIEWER

Where did you hide the marijuana?

WILL FOSTER

I had it in a bomb shelter. The house was built in the 1950s during the nuclear holocaust scares and this house had a bomb shelter built into it and had a corrugated steel door on it, and I grew the marijuana in the bomb shelter.

INTERVIEWER

How much were you growing?

WILL FOSTER

I had about 50 marijuana plants. Now, that's counting clones and everything ... and I was charged with all of those for the same marijuana. And I never had one person that had a witness that ever said I'd distributed marijuana. There were several that said I never sold marijuana, that I did grow it for my own personal use. But they still charged me for possession with intent.

INTERVIEWER

You're saying you never sold it. Then, you used it all yourself?

WILL FOSTER

The marijuana that I used I grew myself, yes.

INTERVIEWER

All of it?

WILL FOSTER

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

It is quite a number of plants just to use yourself.

WILL FOSTER

No, actually, no it's not. You only get about an ounce and a half marijuana per plant, and then it's not like you do when you grow outdoors ... grow a plant for seven, eight months and get a yield of a pound and half of marijuana out of it. You're only getting, at the most, an ounce and half to two ounces of marijuana of an indoor plant because you only grow them for 90 to 120 days.

INTERVIEWER

It must have been tempting, though, in the amount of money you can get for marijuana these days, not to sell some of it.

WILL FOSTER

Didn't need to sell marijuana. I made over $100,000 a year, legitimately, in my computer business. Had no need to sell marijuana.

INTERVIEWER

How many years did you do this?

WILL FOSTER

I had just started.

INTERVIEWER

So it was a matter of months?

WILL FOSTER

Months, yeah. I guess I'd started in September and they busted me in December. So four months.

INTERVIEWER

Did you ever think about getting caught?

WILL FOSTER

No. Not really. I didn't think about getting caught. And I didn't do anything to really draw attention to me, at least I didn't think I did.

And, how they busted in my house was a "John Doe" search warrant. They didn't even know my name. Said that there was methamphetamines bought out of the house ... I never messed with methamphetamines. When they searched the house they didn't find any methamphetamines, they didn't find a razor blade, they didn't find a syringe, didn't find a spoon, didn't find a mirror, didn't find baggies to the keep methamphetamines in. Didn't find scales to weigh methamphetamines up on. Didn't know my name, I never got to confront this confidential informant there in the entire time of the trial. Basically, an individual, now in America, can go submit evidence against you and you don't get to face your accusers anymore.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have some idea who it was?

WILL FOSTER

Actually we did find out who the confidential informant was after trial, and he said that he never told them anything about methamphetamines.

INTERVIEWER

So, what do you think?

WILL FOSTER

Well, the police officers lied.

INTERVIEWER

In order to what?

WILL FOSTER

To gain entry to my house. They didn't know anything about marijuana. I mean they didn't come to my house for marijuana, they came for methamphetamines. Which they found no evidence that it ever existed or ever did exist.

INTERVIEWER

Have you thought about why they had some ulterior motive?

WILL FOSTER

Well, you know, that's how their promotion scale is. It's just like a thing I seen on TV in Dallas ... if these police officers in certain districts didn't start giving certain amount of tickets, they weren't going to be allowed to ... enhancements to their jobs. That's how they do their promotion. How many busts, how many convictions you get.

INTERVIEWER

There are people listening to this that are going to say, how could you not have thought this was going to happen, especially in Oklahoma?

WILL FOSTER

Well, I didn't sell drugs, people didn't know that I grew marijuana. I could ... count them all on one hand who knew I grew marijuana. I lived a pretty decent life. I worked every day. I paid my taxes. I didn't go out and hurt nobody. I didn't rob nobody, I didn't go carousing bars, I stayed home with my family, I was minding my own business, at least, that's what I thought.

INTERVIEWER

You had to have a couple prior convictions of marijuana.

WILL FOSTER

I was at a guy's house that got busted one time, they raided for cocaine and they didn't find any cocaine, but they found two roaches over a cabinet and they charged everybody in the house for that possession of marijuana, even though it was in nobody's possession. I didn't realize that in the common place in somebody's house that's not even yours, that you're just visiting, that you could get busted for possession of marijuana there. Of course the charges were all dropped.

I didn't sell marijuana, so I'd never really worried about the distribution part of it, and I didn't know that cultivation carried two [years] to life.

INTERVIEWER

The prosecution made a big point of the fact that you were growing in the presence of young children.

WILL FOSTER

Oh yeah, but if they don't know about it, is it really in the presence of them?

INTERVIEWER

How do you feel about kids using marijuana?

WILL FOSTER

I don't think that kids should smoke marijuana. I don't think there should be somebody on our school yards peddling marijuana. No. If it has medical purposes and it can help them, then maybe they should smoke marijuana, I mean, we're free to give them ritalin, which is a methamphetamine type drug. We've all heard that, prozac, other types of drugs ... there's kind of a big confusion here ... want to make them drug addicts by prescribing them very highly addictive pharmaceuticals, but then they're worried about them smoking marijuana.

INTERVIEWER

You ever talk about this with your kids?

WILL FOSTER

Actually, I've told my kids I'd rather not them use drugs ... and I told them the possible ramification of it, but if they were going to use it, I'd rather them do it in the privacy of our own home. I don't want them out on the street doing it. I mean, kids are gonna do what they're gonna do.

INTERVIEWER

Did they offer you a deal of some sort?

WILL FOSTER

Before we went to trial, the best deal that they would give me was 25 years, a $150,000 in fines. At the time that we were getting to go to trial, the day of the trial when we were getting ready to put a jury up, they offered me 10 years and $50,000 in fines. If I took the 10 years, then they could come and prosecute my wife as it stood at that time, she would get a misdemeanor, no jail time, if she would testify against me. So if I didn't go to jury trial, they would just come back and try to enforce more years on her in jail.

INTERVIEWER

So you were taking a gamble, for...

WILL FOSTER

Well, it was me go to jail and a jury trial. Or me going to jail taking a plea bargain and her going to jail at the same time.

INTERVIEWER

And what did you think the outcome of the jury trial would be?

WILL FOSTER

Well, I figured with the way that the judge ran the courtroom, the things that he wouldn't even motion on like, the confidential informant, the unsigned affidavit for the search warrant, I mean, I didn't have chance. I knew I was going to go to jail.

INTERVIEWER

How do you think you ended up with a 93-year sentence for marijuana?

WILL FOSTER

Well, I'm the first person ever in Tulsa county to take the drug case to trial. Nobody challenges them ... I did a little research that my own computer program went down and researched files and from February until March of 1996 there were 120 drug arrests for marijuana alone and not one person took it to jury trial, everybody plea bargained out.

INTERVIEWER

So, do you see yourself as a political prisoner in some sense?

WILL FOSTER

Anybody who's in prison for drugs is a political prisoner of war. People across America are speaking, look what happened in California, Arizona, Oregon, Ohio, Massachusetts. They're telling them that the drug war's futile. You'll never win this thing. For 10,000 years men have sought out the euphoric feeling. Alcohol, tobacco, opiates, I could just go on. Dogs do it, birds do it, bears do it. They find mind altering drugs, that's why the koala bears eats eucalyptus leaves because it gives them the euphoric feeling.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think that all drugs should be legalized, or do you think marijuana is different?

WILL FOSTER

Well, you know, it goes back to your freedom of choice ... there's only actually about 3,000 addicts, what they actually say, true addicts. There's 35 million Americans that use drugs. Now, you know, our government wouldn't want you to believe that, they've said there's only 17 million. I don't know if you know much about the new law that the congress has just passed for the accountability of the drug czar's office.

You know, by the year 2001, they're supposed to reduce half of the people using drugs, which means that at the current rate, that means we're going be 7.5 million more people in jail by the year 2001. It's going to empower them to do anything they want to do, it's going to give the police more power to tramp on your constitutional rights, and it all boils down to your freedom of choice. If you're a 21-year-old adult, you've got your job, you work, you support your family, your family is not going hungry, if you want to smoke a joint or ... if it's your choice to do cocaine, then you should be able to be allowed to do that.

INTERVIEWER

At one point did you sort of come to all these political conclusions?

WILL FOSTER

I've done the research, looked in the books, read about the history, and until 1937 you could buy marijuana in any drugstore in America for $1 an ounce.

INTERVIEWER

So you've done the research since your arrest?

WILL FOSTER

No, before I was arrested. And I didn't like the pharmaceutical drugs. I mean you got the FDA prescribing phenolphan [PH], [which] killed 150 people already, I mean, where is its testing at. You know, obviously they didn't do the right testing. Now you look at all these people that have damaged heart valves. Now these are doctors that are prescribing medicine that's supposed to help people, not supposed to kill 'em. You look at a lot of the other medicines that are out there on the market. They all have a side effects--ulcers, liver damage, kidney failures, heart damage, But somebody wants to smoke marijuana for a medicine that causes none of these, has no side effects, is not addictive--shouldn't it be a personal choice, a freedom of choice?

INTERVIEWER

Why didn't you use the medical marijuana defense?

WILL FOSTER

Don't have a medical marijuana defense in Oklahoma.

INTERVIEWER

Have you met other people in prison, who have been in similar situations?

WILL FOSTER

Sure, 45% of the people in Oklahoma prisons are on drug offenses. Mine is not, you know, one of the most harshest. There's people that are doing life without parole for an ounce of marijuana ten years for a joint, 15 years for unlawful delivery of seven grams of marijuana.

The war on drugs is crazy. We spend, in Oklahoma, so much money to fight the war on drugs. The U.S. government, this year, is going to spend $17.5 billion to fight the war on drugs, they're not even stopping 10% of the drugs that are coming into America. I mean, where are our dollars going?

That's not counting the incarceration that we can't pay a school teacher. We can't educate our children, but we can fork out $30,000 a year to keep a prisoner in prison when we can't spend $5,000 dollars year to teach our kids. What's wrong with the picture?

In the the federal penitentiaries there are 71% of the people serving and the federal penitentiaries right now are for drug offenses alone. We are building two prisons a month federally in the United States for drug offenders. That's basically it--50% of the people of the 71% in federal prisons are in for marijuana offenses. Last year alone there was over six million marijuana arrests in America. There's a marijuana arrest every 58 seconds in America. Every 58 seconds there is a marijuana arrest.

INTERVIEWER

What's you're medical condition now?

WILL FOSTER

I get no medical treatment, my hand's all swollen up, my joints, my feet, my ankle's swelled up about this big, I have edema from the swelling of the busted blood vessels in it. I get no medical treatment, ibuprofen, they charge you for that, $2 a whack. Go to the doctor here you have to pay $2 to see the doctor. They put you in prison, at least they should do is provide you medical attention without having to pay for it.

INTERVIEWER

Why, although you admit its easy to get here, don't you use it then?

WILL FOSTER

Why? They UA people a lot, give 'em urinalysis. I just don't wanna take the chance of getting called in for a UA ... your murderers or rapists, its OK, they don't hit them cause they're not in here for that.

INTERVIEWER

And that will affect your appeal?

WILL FOSTER

I don't know so much about my appeal, but, you know, it could affect my status, my good time, things like that.

INTERVIEWER

You don't have any regrets about what this whole thing has done to your family?

WILL FOSTER

Oh yes, my family are the victims. In America, way back when the 14th amendment, for the crime to be committed they're have to be against an individual. Against his property, murder. In your drug cases, there's no victim. Its a victimless crime, the only victim is my family. Me. Who else was a victim in this? There wasn't one, there wasn't one other. I didn't ruin nobody's life, I didn't hurt them. What did I do to somebody? Not a thing. It's a victimless crime, but I'm doing more time than if there was a whole line of victims.

INTERVIEWER

You're saying people who are here for violent offenses get in shorter lengths of time.

WILL FOSTER

There's Barbara Bell--killed her husband cause he cheated on her, she did two years in prison and did two years of suspended sentence on probation and was fined $750. For murder. Same judge that tried me.

INTERVIEWER

What does this say to you about America?

WILL FOSTER

What does this say to me? [LAUGHS]. At one time, I served my country in the service, I was proud to be an American. If I had it today, I'd give up my U.S. citizenship and go to several different places. I wouldn't want to be American.

We're forced to follow the rules of just a few people, and it's no longer a government for the people by the people. Because our people speaking, we passed laws in California and Arizona about marijuana and what does the federal government, the first thing they say, "We don't care what you guys passed, we don't care. Our laws is what counts." What is wrong with this? This is something that our people put on the ballot, they voted it in, they way that it's supposed to be done, by the people, and then our government is telling us, "No, it don't matter what you guys want" So are we really free people anymore?

INTERVIEWER

California is one thing, and middle America is another thing. What did you sense from people in Oklahoma?

WILL FOSTER

You would really be surprised, most people would go for that ... just look at all the money you would put back into our education, I mean, our government, Governor Keating just pulled out $14.2 million from our education fund to put prisoners in Texas. I mean, $14 million would educate a lot of kids, wouldn't it?

INTERVIEWER

A lot people would say that it isn't just the politicians. There is a genuine sentiment in the country in support of the current laws.

WILL FOSTER

Sure, when you have your alcohol industry, your tobacco industry, your pharmaceutical industry, your textiles industry, this would be all direct competition if marijuana was legalized, direct competition. Your oil companies--marijuana has more methane in it than corn. You can make a fuel for gas, or gasoline out of marijuana wouldn't have to use fossil fuels, it'd stop the ozone warming.

You could grow marijuana for paper and never have to cut down another tree. You could prescribe marijuana as medicine and take off all your anti-depressants, your prozacs, your valium, your ritalin. Marijuana fabric is stronger than cotton, breathes better than cotton. You don't have to use the pesticides to keep the bugs off it.

INTERVIEWER

So, in short, you think this is really about something else that's ...

WILL FOSTER

It's about money. Where's your CIA going to be able to get their money to throw over their governments? They can't go to Congress and say "Hey, man, I need a billion dollars so that I can go down here and finance this government to be overthrown." It can't happen. So what do they do, they bring in their drugs, they sell them on American streets, they take the money, and they finance other governments. Its been proven.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think there is a real hope that this country will de-criminalize marijuana?

WILL FOSTER

I would hope so. I think so. At least, make it available for people for medicine.

There's no sense in people sick and dying, and our government just not allowing them to have medicine. They do have the compassionate youth program in America where there is eight people every month [who] get 300 joints each of governmentally grown marijuana. Now why do these eight people get marijuana from our government and [not] everybody else?

 

 
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