By James Collins
Pouyan Monajemi is a restaurateur, and now he’s going to prison. He has a family, roots in his community, and runs small business which contributes to public revenue through taxation. He is, by most accounts, a pillar of society. It’s hard to fathom that Mr Monajemi is deserving of incarceration, what could he have done, abused children or something?
No. He did nothing of the sort. He didn’t harm children. He didn’t steal, or harm anyone. He didn’t threaten or harass or disturb anybody who would have cause to complain about it. In fact – he is the victim of organized crime and a victim of the war on drugs.
Mr Monajemi owned two eateries which found themselves deep in debt as the economic downturn took away much of his business. It is a story that many small business owners can tell. With every penny getting pinched harder, things like eating at a restaurant become more and more of a luxury, and more people must cross it off their to-do list. Because of declining business and growing expenses, he found himself deep in debt.
Owing to the banks and facing pressure to keep up his loan payments, Pouyan made the mistake of going to some less reputable lending sources. In this case, it was Eastern European organized crime types lending out dirty money at very high rates of interest. This probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do, but it hardly merits our judgement. He made a bad call, and the consequences of that mistake soon snowballed to Hollywood proportions.
Soon his loan-shark loans to cover his legitimate loans were racking up interest at a rate he would never have hope of paying. This is how organized crime works. They loan out money at exorbitant rates to the desperate, and then use that debt to exploit the victims of their predatory usury process. In this instance, when their demands for repayment proved futile, they moved onto other means to recover the money they felt they were owed.
Soon the two restaurants owned by our protagonist were secretly cultivating cannabis for sale on the black market. This is a common scam, bully or trick property owners into using their space, then use that space to manufacture products for the black market. In this case it was cannabis. It could have just as easily been sweat shop labor they were trying to conceal, or some kind of smuggling operation. Mr Monajemi was in no position to say “no”, lest he and his family face the backlash from notorious gangsters, so now he either risks the wrath of the state or the wrath of ruthless criminals.
Eventually he was caught. Police found the grow operations, a paper trail to distributors, and threw the book at Pouyan Monajemi like he was some kind of Mafioso. The courts showed some lenience, recognizing that he was not a habitual criminal so much as a victim of circumstance, but still handed down a 20 month custodial sentence.
In a world without prohibition this wouldn’t have happened. With his restaurants failing, Pouyan could have turned to growing and serving cannabis legally were there provisions for such in the law. He would have continued to pay taxes, support his family, and provide services and jobs to the community at large. Instead the solution to his money woes was an even more serious set of problems that ended up taking his freedom away, and it just as easily could have been his life.
The loan-sharks were never arrested, because Pouyan Monajemi isn’t about to tell authorities who they are. Why is that? He is currently facing almost two years in prison for having run afoul of them and you can be sure they still think he owes them money. They might even blame him for the loss of their product; the nightmare is probably far from over. If he were to disclose who these nefarious characters were he would likely face violent repercussions, and those close to him wouldn’t be safe. Loose lips sink ships.
The law has almost seemingly been designed to facilitate organized crime. While governments talk tough about crime, everything about this case weaves a far different narrative. Everything about the legal process put the real victim, Pouyan Monajemi, in the position he found himself in.
By arresting Pouyan and placing him in prison, they have left the real perpetrators of this crime to go about their business and find a new hapless individual to exploit. They will move their operation, grow cannabis somewhere else, and continue to profit without paying into public revenue like a normal business. An innocent man who just wanted to provide for his family has lost his freedom and livelihood, but the bad guys still got away.
Prohibition empowers these groups by design. Recent events have also shown us that mainstream banks are raking in a fortune helping to launder the revenues produced by this kind of underground economy. If all of this were on the level then they would make less, people like Pouyan Monajemi would make more, and the real hardcore criminals would be cut out of the loop entirely.
It isn’t about morality, and it isn’t about public health; it’s just all about money. There are a dozen different ways in which prohibition makes money for all the wrong people. We have to follow the money and confront the truth to find the real people responsible, and hold their feet to the fire.
James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.