On the morning of her arrest, Kelly Barbieri was baking dog biscuits. Her young son, whom she homeschooled, was upstairs doing his work. A homesteader and "earth-lover," Kelly was used to a quiet life. She couldn’t imagine who would be banging on her door in the middle of the day.
By the time she crossed from her bathroom to the living room there were guns in her face. Men were in her house screaming at her to get on the floor. She didn’t know if they were police or robbers, but she assumed if it was the former they simply had the wrong house.
That was almost four years ago. Since then, the state of Georgia has been working to put Kelly and her husband Dan in prison for life on drug charges.
The Barbieris are represented by defense attorney Catherine Bernard, who says that they—and the taxpayers of Bartow County and the state of Georgia—are the real victims in this case.
"Kelly and Dan Barbieri were peacefully minding their own business when regional drug task force agents spent enormous amounts of public safety resources to manufacture criminal charges against them. While they have never threatened or harmed any person or property, their charges carry mandatory minimum imprisonment and up to 75 years in the penitentiary. Our state crime lab has determined that it can't even test all of the evidence in serious violent crimes, and our courts are backlogged with urgent matters. Why are we wasting time, money, and risking lives to hurt people who have done nothing wrong?"
So what did they do exactly?
Kelly used to grow cannabis at her home, almost entirely for her own consumption. But from time to time, when a friend was in need, she would sell it at cost, she told me in a recent interview.
Such was the case with Kelly’s friend, Alex Makarov. She knew Alex from the local farmers market as the “strawberry man.” They often traded homegrown produce. After she had known him for some time, Alex asked if Kelly knew anyone he could purchase marijuana edibles from. He needed them for his mother, he said, who he was dying of cancer. Kelly offered to step in.
Precisely what happened next is a little unclear because Alex has reportedly since died. Kelly believes Alex was caught with drugs (different than those Kelly had sold him) in another town, and in an effort to secure a better deal for himself he agreed to become an informant. Whatever the case, unbeknownst to Kelly, Alex started helping the police record their exchanges. This evidence was used to secure warrants for the arrest of Kelly and Dan on charges of manufacturing, selling, and trafficking drugs, leading to the police raid on their home.
What happened next is a horrifying and an all too familiar story in the United States. Kelly and her husband were separated from their autistic child, who was placed in the care of the state. Police robbed them of the $30,000 they had in their safe (their life-savings) and took their vehicles under civil asset forfeiture.
The Barbieries were never drug dealers, at least not in the traditional meaning of the term. They grew for their own use and would occasionally help out someone in need in their inner circle for the costs they incurred. This wasn’t their business or a main source of income for the family. If anything, it was a ministry for them—which is not unreasonable considering the major medical benefits cannabis offers for a wide range of illnesses.
The man who essentially entrapped the Barbieris is now reportedly dead. The state has no witness, no testimony, but has it dropped the charges? Not even close. Initially, prosecutors and the Barbieris’ first attorney pressured them to take a plea deal. They refused. It would have still meant serving time, their child being taken away, and a permanent record. They decided to fight instead. But that has meant virtual house arrest for four years, lots of money, and living under constant stress.
The family has no other complaints against them, no criminal history, and nothing to indicate that they are in any way a threat to society. But the state doesn’t care about any of that.
The War on Drugs Is a War on Rights
Prosecutors and police love to claim that the ongoing prohibition of marijuana doesn’t hurt anyone. They minimize the number of people in our jails over this victimless “crime” and consistently try to gaslight the American people about the realities of the War on Drugs.
According to research from the ACLU, “of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent were for simply having marijuana.” Not only that, they also found that marijuana accounts for over half of all drug arrests in the country. And Forbes reported in 2020 that an estimated 40,000 people are incarcerated for marijuana offenses, even as many states have legalized the plant.
The truth is, we do still ruin people’s lives over marijuana and nothing else. We spend millions of dollars persecuting them (just imagine how much Georgia has already spent on this case), we take their children (which incurs lifelong trauma), we push them out of employment, we wreck their homes, and we steal their finances. This is the actual criminal behavior.
As the French economist Frederic Bastiat famously said, “The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!" The more things change, the more things stay the same it would seem in this case.
The real injustice here is that the state makes it illegal for peaceful people to access a plant with healing properties in the first place.
Half the country has now overturned barbaric and senseless laws against marijuana, but it isn’t enough. We must eradicate this evil from our law books in every state. Until we do, families like the Barbieris will continue to suffer, and so will society as we waste our resources on such charades instead of directing them towards true violence and crimes.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As we recognize his birthday, it’s time to rise up against this violation of civil liberties.
Georgia must stop its persecution of innocent people; we must demand it.