An employee of the city’s first legal marijuana dispensary is being held on Rikers Island on a cannabis-related felony charge in a striking example of how pot, despite being legal in New York state, can still drag people into the criminal justice system as it remains illegal under federal law and those of several states.
When police pulled over 33-year-old Jumal George in Brooklyn on October 11 as he was driving to a friend’s house after a shift as a lead budtender at the Housing Works Cannabis Co., they found he was driving without a license — and that he had a warrant against him in Pennsylvania. The charges there stemmed from several cannabis-related charges he was arrested for back in 2021.
His fiancée, Audra Ramos, told THE CITY that he had left his license at home. “A little mistake was made, but he was fixing it,” she said, noting that George had made trips back to Pennsylvania to deal with the charges there but missed a hearing after one of the dates was moved up suddenly last year. That’s when the warrant was issued.
When police pulled him over in New York, George was detained. Two days later, he was sentenced to seven days at Rikers for the license charge.
But more than a week later, George is still being held there, awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania, where he’s facing a a felony charge for possession with intent to distribute marijuana along with six misdemeanor charges including a DUI for a Schedule 1 drug.
With no bail set yet in that case, which could carry up to 15 years of prison time, Mike Hassell, a former colleague at the Housing Works Cannabis Co. who left recently to run his own consulting firm, has put together a GoFundMe to raise money for George’s legal fees and prospective bail.
That’s raised more than $10,000 as of Monday evening, with Haskell telling THE CITY that “the cannabis community has really stepped up to support Jumal and it makes me proud to be a part of it.”
The District Attorney’s office in York County, Pennsylvania said it did not comment on active cases. Phone calls on Monday to the public defender representing George in Pennsylvania were not returned, nor was a phone call to his public defender at the Legal Aid Society in New York City.
“No more arrests, no more convictions, no more incarcerations,” cannabis lawyer Jeffrey Hoffman, who is not involved in George’s case, wrote in an email to THE CITY about the detention, calling it “madness.”
‘It’s Still Ridiculous’
A long-time cannabis user, George became interested in becoming part of New York’s new legal market after legalization passed in March 2021. Previously a bartender, George attended a four-week training in retail cannabis work by the non-profit Hospitality Pathways last year.
“Jumal had always made it clear that he intended to work in the legal cannabis market and he took the steps to do that,” said his former colleague Hassell.
For years, he’s run a small edibles business with his fiance. The two have a child together and also volunteer to make birthday cakes for people who cannot afford them. Ramos was featured as a New Yorker of the Week by NY1 News last December for her volunteer work.
George was one of the first people through the program to get a job in the legal marketplace, said Beatrice Stein, who runs the non-profit. “We are heartbroken, and we’re just doing everything we can to try to help him,” she said.
While at Housing Works, George became a regular at industry events — after steeping himself in the knowledge of the various cannabis strains and types of products, his colleagues said.
“He’s just pivotal to their operation over there at Housing Works,” said Colin Decker, the owner of the cannabis brand 7 SEAZ, which sells its products at Housing Works.
Decker spread the word about George’s detention on his Instagram page after learning about it this weekend. “You can’t expect like these other states to be where we are in New York, but regardless of that it’s still ridiculous how it’s affecting someone’s life,” he said.
Before starting his pathway in legal weed, George was arrested near York, Pa., in August 2021 after a traffic stop for making a turn from the wrong lane, according to records and interviews. George and his fiance Ramos were on a trip with their child to visit the amusement park Hershey Park a few hours away.
Cops said they smelled cannabis in the car, Ramos recalled. When police searched the vehicle they found packages of edibles that she says they had forgotten about. George was charged with possession as well as driving under the influence of a Schedule 1 drug, based on a blood test. (Because cannabis can stay in the bloodstream for days, a positive blood test isn’t necessarily indicative of impaired driving the way a failed breathalyzer is indicative of drunk driving, something states, including those that have legalized marijuana, have struggled to address.)
George made it to the first hearing in that case. But the date of his second hearing was changed and the notice was sent to an address where he no longer lived, according to interviews with his friends and family. He hadn’t been hired at Housing Works yet and was having car problems last November, when the warrant first was issued, said Ramos.
After George’s nearly two weeks in Rikers, Ramos said she is talking to him less and less. “He’s getting maced every day in there,” she said, starting to cry.
“I started telling him not to call me,” Ramos said, adding that she can often hear people arguing while she’s on the phone with him. “I don’t want him arguing, I just want him out.”