california, cannabis induced psychosis

California Woman Who Stabbed Boyfriend Over 100 Times Gets Probation Due To Cannabis- Induced Psychosis Defense

Though this case is clearly an outlier with unique properties such as the existence of a woman who experienced cannabis-induced psychosis, a June 2021 report from the California Budget and Policy Center sets forth that the incarceration rate for women in California has declined in general, and the incarceration rate for Black and white women dropped by nearly 50% between 2010 and 2019.

Research on cannabis-induced psychosis is spotty, but a case in California has brought increased attention to the phenomenon. Bryn Spejcher’s 2018 stabbing of her boyfriend Chad O’Melia was blamed on the condition, and Judge David Worley decided to give Spejcher probation after determining that a psychotic episode caused her involuntary manslaughter of O’Melia.

The Independent reported that Spejcher received a suspended four-year sentence that could still be served if she violates the conditions of her probation. According to a press release from Ventura County, O’Melia and Spejcher were taking hits from a bong when she had a reaction to the marijuana, which resulted in Spejcher stabbing O’Melia more than 100 times. Spejcher also stabbed herself. When officers arrived on the scene, they found O’Melia covered in blood and Spejcher screaming hysterically and attempting to plunge a long serrated knife into her own neck. Officers tased her and used a baton to remove the knife from her grasp. Paramedics pronounced O’Melia dead at the scene. 

According to Spejcher’s attorney, Michael Goldstein, the sentence was fair due to the circumstances of the case. He noted that even the prosecution’s expert witnesses could not say with certainty that his client had full control of her faculties. 

“Today, Ventura Superior Court judge did the right thing and imposed a sentence that was fair and accurately reflected,” Goldstein said.

“It was clear that she had no control of her faculties and never intended to cause any harm. All of the medical experts agreed, including the expert called by the district attorney’s office.”

However, as Audry Nafziger, the lead prosecutor on the case for the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, told NBC News, there are dangers in Judge Worley’s sentencing. “It sets a very dangerous precedent,” Nafziger said. “It’s also a slap in the face to the victim’s family and speaks poorly to victims’ relief everywhere that…it’s OK to smoke marijuana and butcher someone with three knives. But it’s not OK to smoke marijuana and drive and kill someone. That will send you to jail. …It doesn’t square.”

Nafziger also alluded to the racial aspect of the case: Spejcher is white, while O’Melia, her boyfriend at the time, was a Black man. “When you smoke weed and you’re a white, young, privileged…upper-middle-class woman who bamboozles an old, white male judge, and you get to walk, I don’t know how to reconcile that for all the other criminals and victims in the country,” Nafziger said.

Despite her strong objections, in December the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office issued a statement affirming the diagnosis of cannabis-induced psychosis. “Spejcher had an adverse reaction to the marijuana and suffered from what experts call Cannabis-Induced Psychotic Disorder,” the statement read. “During that psychotic episode, Spejcher stabbed Mr. O’Melia multiple times killing him.”

In September 2023, the initial charge of murder was reduced to involuntary manslaughter after a forensic psychologist determined that due to the psychotic episode caused by the “high potency marijuana” the pair smoked, Spejcher lost cognitive control. No other drugs were found in her body at the time.

Robert Schwartz, another of Spejcher’s attorneys, said Judge Worley “acted courageously in giving her a probationary sentence without imposing any jail time.” Schwartz also stated that “The judge’s sentence was strongly based on the evidence he heard in the trial.”

However, Schwartz also struck a somber tone in expressing that nobody truly won this case. “It’s a horrible tragedy all the way around,” Schwartz said. “It’s a tragedy for the victim and his family, and it’s a tragedy for my client and her family. As we said in the courtroom, ‘Nobody walked away a winner.’”

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