NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Have you heard the one about Robert Duncan, the "pot shop worker" who is going to prison for two years for selling medical marijuana in California?
So even though California likely won't make pot legal for recreational use until 2016, it does permit the sale of marijuana for medical purposes, however specious. Federal laws, however, still classify marijuana as a schedule 1 controlled substance, which means Duncan is a criminal in the eyes of the U.S. government.
So he is going to prison.
And he's blogging about it.
And the Huffington Post is covering the heck out of it.
And he's young and kind of handsome.
And he's white.
And he says he's going to get his online MBA -- he presumably already has a college degree -- while he's at it.
And there's a "Free Robert Duncan" petition.
And a #freerobertduncan hashtag.
So why am I not feeling so sorry for Robert Duncan?
In part, it's because I feel I'm being manipulated to feel sorry for him, and in part, it's because Duncan seems to have a really bright future, even if, as seems unlikely, he actually spends two years in prison. In fact, his future may even be brighter if he serves a full two-year sentence, since it means people will pay attention to him for two years, and he'll get two years to figure out how to leverage that attention to build his brand.
As I was contemplating these questions who should walk into our offices but hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, who has spent a good part of his career working to reform our drug laws because of the damage they have done, above all to black people. I wondered what he would say about Duncan.
"Awww, " he responded in mock sympathy when I told him Duncan's story, "a lot of black nice guys -- kids -- went to jail for 20 years cuz they had drugs in their pockets."
Still, he sees Duncan's imprisonment as a good thing for those of us who want to make our drug laws less punitive.
"You need to put a WASP in the oven [so people will] care about the six million Jews," Simmons said.
Maybe so, but another factor is that reforming drug laws already seems like a done deal. Legislation to reduce drug sentences and give judges more discretion in sentencing drug offenders is already making good progress through Congress, with support from parties as widely divergent from an ideological point of view as tea party leader and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
So, #freerobertduncan if you like. Just don't cry for him.