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Etheredge says his assistant forwarded the mail to the DEA because the agency's address was displayed prominently on the back of Jones's membership coupon.
"She could have just as easily sent it back to him," he concedes.
The DEA received the letter at its West Loop offices and promptly returned it to Jones.
"We're not concerned about what an organization like NORML is doing, unless they're breaking the law," says Robert Paiz, spokesman for the Houston office of the DEA. "We have enough responsibility monitoring the illicit drug traffickers who are putting the hard drugs out on the street."
Vanessa Kimbrough, a Houston postal service inspector, says the episode is a straightforward case of an "operational error" by the mail carrier who delivered Jones's letter to the wrong place. Robison of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas is satisfied with that version of events.
"It sort of takes the fun out of being in the middle of a murder mystery," he quips.
For his part, Etheredge says his conscience is clear. He was "trying to be nice" by forwarding the letter on to who he thought was the intended recipient.
"I feel no responsibility for the fact that [Jones] misaddressed the envelope," he says.
Jones concludes that his letter may indeed have fallen victim to a comedy of errors. But he is not laughing. A onetime owner of a machine shop, Jones was left paralyzed by a 1985 car wreck. In 1992, circulation problems forced the amputation of both of his legs. A longtime activist for the disabled, he lives in severe pain and finds marijuana is an effective way to ease the suffering.
"I want to see marijuana laws change. It's a very good therapeutic medicine," he says. "It isn't going to infringe on anyone else."