Illegal Batter

Chris Corker will earn no more letters. The three-sport star of Chancellor High School in Fredericksburg, Va., recently baked his way off the playing fields. And onto the crime blotter.

This week, Corker must show up in Spotsylvania County General District Court to face one felony count of distribution of a controlled substance in a school. His controlled substance, say prosecutors, was marijuana. His method of distribution was brownies.

"This was a classic case of stupid," says William F. Neely, commonwealth's attorney for Spotsylvania County.

If stupidity were indeed the charge against Corker, Neely would probably get a quickie conviction. The prosecutor alleges that on Feb. 28, Corker, a senior, brought a pan of pot-laced brownies to school to satisfy a homework assignment in his math class involving the practical use of measurements.

"The class was doing something with numbers and how the numbers oriented with food," Neely says. "So this kid baked brownies and sprinkled them with marijuana. He was just giving them away to other students. Maybe it's because I'm an English major, but I really don't see exactly what this has to do with math."

Corker quarterbacked the Chancellor Chargers football team to a playoff berth and starred on the baseball and basketball squads; on the very day he brought the brownies to class, in fact, he was named to an All-Battlefield District hoops team by the Free Lance-Star, the Fredericksburg daily. (In November, he was named by the paper to an all-district football squad.)

Athletic privilege apparently ain't what it used to be on campus: After Corker allegedly told some classmates about the special nature of his baked goods, one of his fellow students immediately dropped a dime on the school's top jock to Chancellor administrators.

Before the magic brownies even had time to work their magic, a county sheriff had gotten into Corker's locker. There, she found leftovers from the math project that allegedly reeked of weed. No students complained about whatever effects the brownies may have had on them, but Corker was hauled down to county jail by day's end.

The brownies, meanwhile, had another destination. "We sent the leftovers, a plastic bucket of brownies, to the state lab in Richmond to have them analyzed," says Neely. "There was a lab test, and the brownies tested positive for marijuana."

Neely says that his office has never handled a case such as this before. But Corker, even if the allegations are true, is hardly a pioneer in the field of getting baked on baked goods. Potheads trace the use of marijuana in the kitchen back to the mid-'50s, when the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook was published. Toklas' primary claim to fame came from being a gal pal of Gertrude Stein. The draft of the cookbook Toklas sent to her publisher, Harper's, included a recipe for "hashisch fudge" that called for the use of "canibis sativa" that had been "picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green."

American editors caught the joke, even with the misspellings, and expunged the recipe. But the British version left it in. Soon enough, literate hipsters on both sides of the ocean were lacing their sweets with THC, hoping to experience the "extensions of one's personality on several simultaneous planes" that, Toklas' book promised, "are to be complacently expected" by those who eat the special confection.

The recipe, over time, made its way down the artistic food chain. Pretty much every '70s sitcom threw pot brownies into a script at some point. An episode of Laverne and Shirley had the title characters carrying on with a pair of rock stars (played by Eric Idle and Peter Noone) while high on magic brownies. Abe Vigoda, back when everybody knew he was alive, played Detective Phil Fish on Barney Miller. The only episode in which Vigoda's character was depicted as anything but unhappy and grumpy featured his eating hash brownies made by Detective Wojo's girlfriend. (Pro-pot advocates claim that the Barney Miller brownie episode, though a fan favorite, has been pulled from syndication because it portrays their drug of choice in too flattering a manner.) On the more recent That '70s Show, in which pot references play as much a part as the laugh track, uptight dad Red and his wife, Kitty, loosen up on a plate of weed brownies.

Pot as a dessert also appeared in the feature films Never Been Kissed and Dick, the Watergate-era spoof starring Kirsten Dunst, which has disarmament talks with Moscow ensuing only after Henry Kissinger gets high on baked goods.

Whether on the big or little screen, there is one constant to the Hollywood portrayals of laced desserts: Only good things come from eating them.

Perhaps that's why the student body at Chancellor isn't particularly incensed by the alleged pot-brownie caper. "From what I hear, all the kids think this is no big deal," says Joyce Roman, secretary of Chancellor's Parent, Teacher, and Student Association and the mother of a 10th-grader there.

Even Neely concedes that Corker probably got the idea for his brownies from some pop-culture source. "I think this was life imitating art," says Neely.

Unlike Hollywood or high school kids, the law does sometimes treat the distribution of pot brownies as a very big deal.

Fredericksburg attorney Mark Gardner is representing Corker, who was allowed to return to class after serving a suspension. Gardner says that no matter what happens in court, his client has already paid a stiff penalty for his wayward Betty Crocker imitation.

"He's a good athlete and a good kid who had never been in trouble before this," says Gardner. "But he wasn't allowed to play baseball. He can't attend any school activities. He can't go to prom. He can't drive to school. He can't walk with his class at graduation."

Gardner says that Corker, who could not be reached for comment, has been offered a college football scholarship. The attorney declines to name which college tendered the offer. "What happens in this case will determine if he goes to college," Gardner says. "That really is the situation here."

Neely says that Corker faces a jail sentence of up to five years if convicted of passing out pot. Had Corker sold the brownies, the prosecutor adds, the potential sentence would be 30 years. But Neely hints that he might not play hardball with the kid once the case gets to court. The charge against Corker, he says, could even be reduced to a misdemeanor, as the state code allows as long as there's no evidence that anybody became addicted to the controlled substance being distributed.

"And surely nobody got addicted here," he says. "Not from one little brownie." --Dave McKenna

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