Champion of an unpopular cause Activist: Though the conviction was overturned, life has not been easy for Pamela Snowhite Davis since Carroll County police arrested her five years ago.

Catching Up With ... 'Marijuana Mama'

February 09, 1997|By Janice D'Arcy | Janice D'Arcy,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

She sucks on a finger-length wooden pipe, then exhales. The earthy aroma fills her beat-up '91 Mercury Capri. It has been five years since her pipe landed her in prison and put her skinny, graying image on the front pages, but "Marijuana Mama" is still toking away.

Pamela Snowhite Davis, 52, her fingers wrapped around a cane, finishes her "self-medication" and slowly walks back to a sushi restaurant in Mount Vernon, the only place where she feels comfortable giving an interview. Davis is feeling a little paranoid these days. Being a champion for the medical use of marijuana can do that to you.

Davis, who has formed a group called Marylanders for Medical Marijuana, envisions a day when her drug use will be legal.

Sympathy for others

"I have sympathy for people who need it, but don't have a clue. They don't have access to pot because they don't know who to call," she says. "They don't have friends like I have, so they're driven to the street corners. Sometimes they don't even know what they're getting. That has to change."

She also envisions a time when she can erase the memory of what brought her fame and made her a marijuana activist.

Davis doesn't look much like a counter-culture radical. Her dress borders on preppy: jeans, white socks, loafers and a gray turtleneck sweater that matches her short-cropped hair. Her tortoise-shell eyeglasses frame sad blue eyes and her face is etched slightly with age. Only her tattered jean jacket suggests that this woman has had some rough times.

"I've never been one to say I didn't inhale or I didn't drop [acid]," she says. "My drug use was very experimental. If you want to say that disqualifies me as a human being, then so be it."

These days, Davis inhales in Baltimore, a world away from her 54-acre Carroll County farm, which was raided by the county's Narcotics Task Force in 1992.

In May of that year, a United Parcel Service delivery man stepped up to the door of her Silver Run farm and rang the bell. Her daughter answered and signed for a brown paper package. With that signature, the life Davis calls "idyllic" was over.

The UPS worker was a disguised police officer from the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force. The package -- addressed to Davis' 22-year-old son -- was stuffed with marijuana, and the police knew it. Once inside the house, they found less than an ounce of marijuana in Davis' nightstand. They also seized a bong, a copy of High Times magazine, Grateful Dead concert tickets and a pro-marijuana poster. Davis was arrested. Later, police also raided her Westminster clothing and head shop, discovered several pounds of marijuana seeds and brought more charges against her.

Sentenced to five years

The case of the "Marijuana Mama" led to months of high-profile court battles and equally high-profile news accounts. In conservative Carroll County, few people appreciated Davis' embrace of marijuana use and her advocacy of legalization. County Circuit Court Judge Raymond E. Beck Jr. sentenced her to five years in prison for possession and maintaining a common nuisance.

"You fight for causes," Beck said at her sentencing, "but you are marching under false colors."

She spent 56 days in prison before an Anne Arundel County judge ordered her release, pending the outcome of an appeal. Two years later, the state Court of Special Appeals overturned her conviction and criticized Beck for allowing concert tickets and magazines to be used as evidence.

Still, her life would never be the same. Davis lost her store, sold her farm, divorced -- a break she says was caused by the stress of the spotlight -- and moved to Baltimore. She was left financially, physically and emotionally broken, a predicament she blames wholly on the "tyranny" of the Carroll County police.

Most of her conversation focuses on her 56 days in prison. Her recollections of filth and savagery are almost cartoonish in their excess. She talks of "poisonous food" and "cruel, abusive guards," and refers to her cell as "a hellhole."

"Everybody thinks just because I'm out of prison it's over. It's not over -- my life is ruined."

She says she now finds camaraderie only with others who have been "persecuted for their beliefs." She sees no incongruity in comparing her two months in a Maryland prison to a friend's imprisonment in Vietnam for almost a decade.

She speaks vaguely of her current reality. She lives off meager profits from sales of homemade jewelry and the generosity of friends. She says she has a total savings of $72. An undiagnosed condition -- debilitating aches that she originally thought was multiple sclerosis, but now believes was caused by a fall in prison -- forces her to use a cane and prevents her from working.

Offers no apologies

She smokes pot all day long, and offers no apologies for it. When she was young, she smoked pot for recreation. She says she gave it up when she had children, but resumed smoking it again at her son's urging. He thought it would restore her appetite.

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