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HomeHealthcareDan Muessig’s Final Days as a Free Man

Dan Muessig’s Final Days as a Free Man


On his final night time as a free man, Dan Muessig, the internet-famous ex–felony protection lawyer and former pot king of Squirrel Hill, did nothing specifically. By that time, he instructed me, he wasn’t as much as it. He had already shared the melancholy seven-course Italian final supper with household and mates a number of weeks prior, already bid farewell to his aged mother and father, already gazed on the quotidian set dressing of day by day life (acquainted faces, foliage, streets) and longed for all of it even in its presence. There had already been time for distress and remorse, and there could be extra time for it but. However because the hours between Muessig and Could 11, 2022—the date he would give up himself into federal custody for a jail time period of 5 years as punishment for promoting marijuana—handed, he was nonetheless. He sat by his spouse on their sofa, he mentioned, and considered the years that will stretch onward earlier than he might contact her once more.

Muessig had appeared ashen and weary throughout our Could 7 Zoom dialog a number of days earlier, with bleak desperation the place a lot rakish juvenile delinquency had as soon as been. Mauve shadows ringed his eyes. He laughed low, faint, and spare. He’s not a lawyer and not a drug vendor; now his enterprise is actual property. Muessig was by no means accused of, indicted for, or convicted of committing any kind of violence—but when his youthful mien had as soon as registered as vaguely menacing however, nothing about him does now. He speaks extra softly today, and he doesn’t say a lot that might register the diploma of offense that federal prosecutors, amongst so many others, evidently took when he dropped a semi-infamous viral video advert again in 2014—however we’ll get to that. For now, it’s sufficient to say that Muessig has gotten older over the previous couple of years, like all of us however worse.

Not that any of it will persuade a sure form of critic, who sees in Muessig not rather more than an prosperous Millennial drug vendor who left a authorized profession behind to return to his (rather more profitable) occupation of selection. Muessig doesn’t disagree. He pleaded responsible; he admits he broke the legislation. However the legal guidelines themselves are weak, confused, and shifting, and the penalties absurd in mild of marijuana’s widespread and rising legality. Muessig could also be a punk, and also you don’t have to love him, however even by the requirements laid out by a campaign-trail Joe Biden, a onetime champion of the Struggle on Medication, he shouldn’t be in jail.

In that sense, the president is simply maintaining with the instances. The lack of anybody—Richard Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Billy Graham—to offer an goal account of why marijuana, not like different dangerous however broadly authorized leisure substances comparable to alcohol and cigarettes, should be topic to particular prohibition has slowly eroded America’s anti-cannabis authorized structure. To this point, 18 states in addition to the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for grownup leisure use; in the meantime, 37 states plus the capital have additionally enacted legal guidelines allowing docs to prescribe marijuana to their sufferers. Even states that ban leisure and medical marijuana use permit the medical use of cannabidiol, a chemical compound derived from the exact same hashish plant that, processed in a distinct vogue, may be dried, floor, rolled, and smoked. For tens of millions of marijuana customers, shopping for weed is an abnormal ID-flash transaction, no completely different from stopping on the liquor retailer—and but these fragments of prohibition stay, such that the previous and future appear to have arrived directly, whereas a good current continues to be lacking.

Politicians and litigators have struggled to handle the bizarre crises produced by these sudden shifts in marijuana coverage. In California, as an illustration, a measure enacted with the state’s 2016 legalization statute promised a pathway to clear previous marijuana convictions, however as of 2022, 1000’s of individuals have been nonetheless ready for his or her information to resolve. States the place possession is authorized have discovered themselves in battle with federal authorities: No sooner had California handed legalization than Donald Trump’s first lawyer normal, Jeff Classes, rescinded the “Cole memo,” an Obama-era directive that had promised state attorneys normal restricted discretion to legalize marijuana with affordable regulation with out a lot worry of federal interference. Classes went on to concern a scathing memo on marijuana enforcement to U.S. attorneys in 2018, stating that “the earlier issuance of steering undermines the rule of legislation” and demanding that prosecutors “use beforehand established prosecutorial rules that present all of them the required instruments to disrupt felony organizations, sort out the rising drug disaster, and thwart violent crime throughout our nation.”

In concept, the administration of Joe Biden was going to ease the rising stress between federal and state marijuana insurance policies by primarily ending federal enforcement of marijuana prohibition, if not enacting federal decriminalization measures. On the marketing campaign path, then-candidate Biden mentioned, amongst different issues, that for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes it “is senseless for individuals to go to jail,” and that “we should always decriminalize marijuana, interval, and I believe anybody who has a report ought to be set free of jail, their information expunged—be utterly zeroed out.” However Biden has not stored his guarantees. Nearly 3,000 federal prisoners stay behind bars on marijuana fees, although Biden’s then–press secretary Jen Psaki instructed reporters on April 20 that the president “stays dedicated” to exercising the clemency he hasn’t but proven.

Within the meantime, Dan Muessig can do little greater than wait, and replicate on how every part fell aside the way in which it did. After we talked over Zoom and textual content within the days main as much as his incarceration, all his ideas appeared to loop again to that damned viral video advert from 2014.

“I didn’t make the business as a means of aggrandizing my criminality,” Muessig instructed me, apropos nearly of nothing, as if I may need suspected he had. Years in the past, in 2014, recent out of legislation faculty and trying to construct a shopper base, the then–trim and energetic younger lawyer (who had, maybe not like many of the high-quality women and men who matriculate by the College of Pittsburgh Legislation Faculty, spent a number of years touring internationally, if not glamorously, as an underground rap artist by the identify of Dos-Noun) launched a tongue-in-cheek video commercial for his criminal-defense companies. Within the three-and-a-half-minute advert, Muessig is younger and wolfish, pitching his companies to potential shoppers with glib effectivity: “America was constructed on freedom,” he cajoles at one level, “not on a bunch of individuals with extra money than you telling you what you may and may’t do with all their silly legal guidelines.” In the meantime, mates of Muessig’s—portraying criminals within the act—thank their lawyer buddy (“Did I point out I’m Jewish?” Muessig teases at one level, spinning a dreidel invitingly) for his companies, and go proper on committing their crimes.

Muessig’s friends, colleagues, and superiors within the Pittsburgh criminal-justice system weren’t amused. “Oh my God. It was like a fucking pack of vipers,” he recalled in an interview with HipHopDX final month. “Prosecutors professionally don’t have a humorousness. Judges too, you realize?”

On the time, Muessig was considerably tickled by the backlash. He loved a second of countercultural notoriety, chatting casually with Vice about Pittsburgh rap and confidently telling Esquire that he was glad to be typecast as a mischievous sleaze: “I’m a streetwise Jewish child who grew up within the metropolis and transitioned from somebody who was a hip hop head to a profitable felony lawyer. I created this pigeonhole in an effort to get to it. I embrace it.”

However embracing authorized work full-time turned out to require rather more self-discipline and sternness of structure than Muessig might muster. Basically, he was a weed man, not a legislation man—pleasant, sociable, and a greater match with the offbeat and bohemian parts in society than the straightlaced {and professional}. Although he had dealt somewhat weed in legislation faculty, he instructed me, he escalated operations as his authorized follow started to really feel unrewarding and overwhelming, with fixed requests to do free work for household and mates, blatant disrespect from prosecutors and colleagues based mostly on the provocative advert, and comparatively little pay in contrast with the earnings from his rising pot enterprise. Ultimately, he determined to maneuver into full-time promoting. “I wasn’t a tremendous lawyer or something like that,” Muessig mentioned. And together with his repute, he struggled to assist his shoppers as a lot as he would have favored to. His mere presence had change into a hindrance.

The Pittsburgh pot market, in the meantime, was red-hot, regardless of (or maybe, partially, due to) Pennsylvania’s ban on leisure marijuana. Working with a couple of mates, Muessig opened up what successfully turned an underground dispensary. Muessig and his staff finally turned the store right into a full-fledged retail operation full with register shifts, safety, common pricing, and, sure, promoting: “The shop,” because it got here to be identified to its adoring clients, proudly invited clients to name anytime at 412-543-TREE.

Whereas mates operated the shop, Muessig moved up in Pittsburgh’s weed provide chain, shepherding an increasing number of of the town’s marijuana inflows as time went on. By 2019, Muessig instructed me, he and his staff had established “a very separate wholesale operation.” Muessig was repeatedly buying tons of of kilograms of marijuana for tons of of 1000’s of {dollars} and shifting the product by the town for even larger revenue, making him the undisputed weed kingpin of the Pittsburgh metro space. Together with the road cred and camaraderie Muessig had been on the lookout for, his new work introduced in a considerable sum of money, which got here with its personal dangers. “Now you’re locked in,” he instructed me, reflecting on the inflow of money that got here his means shortly earlier than the autumn. “You’ve spent years working in the direction of this, even whenever you instructed your self possibly that you simply weren’t going to do that or no matter. Now you’re up prime, now you’re the massive canine, everybody calls you ‘boss.’”  Many individuals, some with dependent households, now relied on him for his or her common earnings. The stakes had out of the blue change into very excessive.

Federal prosecutors would later reveal in Muessig’s sentencing memorandum that investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Higher Pittsburgh Secure Streets Job Pressure obtained 9 wiretap-authorization warrants from January to Could of 2019 as they collectively labored to bust a bunch of Pittsburgh criminals referred to as the SCO gang. SCO, whose membership operated out of the Braddock neighborhood, dealt primarily in heroin and cocaine, which had initially attracted federal consideration; their marijuana gross sales, which in the end led to Muessig’s indictment, appeared to be one thing of an afterthought. However Muessig was the wholesale provider for the town on the time, and SCO’s weed delegate was repeatedly buying product from considered one of his staff. That’s the character of a monopoly, and it’s the onerous fact the feds specified by their 12-page memo, which, regardless of alleging no specific hurt or harm to any particular person brought on by Muessig, nonetheless requires the person to spend years behind bars. In March of this 12 months, a decide sentenced Muessig to the five-year mandatory-minimum sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to promote, fees he’d pleaded responsible to in November 2019.

And so the feds obtained their want. After all, they might have been simply as happy whatever the particular sentence. No victims are talked about within the sentencing memo; the one effort to hyperlink Muessig with any hurt comes within the type of the argument that by supplying marijuana to a gang primarily promoting tougher, extra harmful medicine, Muessig had strengthened the gang’s hand. What does come up—again and again—is Muessig’s 2014 viral advert. In truth, the memo takes as an epigraph a line spoken by Muessig within the advert—“Penalties, they positive suck, don’t they?”—as if to taunt the person that his punishment has certainly arrived.

I hope that Dan Muessig comes dwelling—quickly. However American marijuana coverage has already modified what house is and will probably be. Muessig doesn’t smoke weed anymore, he mentioned, although he misses it typically. However the pleasure is gone. Considered one of Muessig’s authentic marijuana-business companions died in 2017, working drunk by visitors after a girlfriend. When the indictments got here down, considered one of Dan’s shut mates and associates, a 62-year-old grandfather, dedicated suicide; he didn’t need to go to jail or inform on anybody else, Muessig defined, heartbroken, in a subsequent pre-prison interview. (Muessig, for that matter, additionally refused to testify towards any member of his or another operation for federal investigators.) The person’s son, additionally a longtime buddy of Muessig’s, overdosed and died. Muessig and his spouse had begun adoption proceedings earlier than they have been made conscious that he could be doing jail time, and naturally all of that fell by instantly. Muessig’s mom is ailing, and he worries he won’t see her once more.

Now, he wrote to me by jail e-mail lately, he thinks of the ladies in his life always, and aches. “It is a unhappy, unhappy place,” Muessig’s notice learn. “Not harmful within the bodily sense, however as corrosive mentally as anywhere I’ve ever imagined, not to mention lived in … I miss [my wife] and my mother with extra power than I beforehand thought potential.”

When Muessig returns, he’ll presumably return to the work he left behind: actual property. Shopping for weed was once the form of factor you wanted a man like Muessig for. However these days are waning. Marijuana continues to be unlawful in Pennsylvania, however the state now appears like a holdout, as neighboring states together with Maryland, New York, and New Jersey have legalized or decriminalized pot. Throughout the nation, one should buy weed as impersonally as anything now, and why not? No matter romance there as soon as was is fading, because the mundane contours of the retail expertise—ready in line, mumbling picks from a menu, fidgeting with an ATM—null the mystique. In that sense, Muessig is like Steve McQueen’s Tom Horn, an outdated cowboy who outlived the frontier. Society had a sensible use for him up to now, and a romantic legacy for him sooner or later, however no place for him within the time he lived.

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