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The 5 Worst States to Get Busted With Pot

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Even a minor pot bust can be life-altering for people unlucky enough to be arrested in one of these five states.

Police prosecute over 800,000 Americans annually for violating state marijuana laws. The penalties for those busted and convicted vary greatly, ranging from the imposition of small fines to license revocation to potential incarceration. But for the citizens arrested in these five states, the ramifications of even a minor pot bust are likely to be exceptionally severe.

1. Oklahoma. Lawmakers in the Sooner State made headlines this spring when legislators voted 119 to 20 in favor of House Bill 1798, which enhances the state sentencing guidelines for hash manufacturing to a minimum of two years in jail and a maximum penalty of life in prison. (Mary Fallin, the state’s first-ever female governor, signed the measure into law in April; it takes effect on November 1, 2011.) But longtime Oklahoma observers were hardly surprised at lawmakers’ latest “life for pot” plan. After all, state law already allows judges to hand out life sentences for those convicted of cannabis cultivation or for the sale of a single dime-bag.

Patricia Marilyn Spottedcow, 25, learned the truth about Oklahoma’s excessive pot penalties the hard way in February when a judge sentenced the mother of four to 12 years in prison for her role in the sale of $39 worth of herb to an undercover informant. Spottedcow’s sentence sparked national media attention – and public outrage – but neither result has led the judge in the case to reconsider the terms of her confinement.

Similarly harsh sentences for pot are par for the course in the Sooner State. Paraplegic Jimmy Montgomery was sentenced to life in prison – later reduced to 10 years – after being caught with two ounces of medical pot in his wheelchair. After considerable public outcry, Montgomery was eventually granted early release on medical parole – though he later lost a leg from an ulcerated bed sore he developed while in prison. Rheumatoid arthritis patient Will Foster – convicted of marijuana cultivation in 1997 – received a similarly draconian 93-year sentence, later reduced to 20 years on appeal. Foster was eventually paroled and moved to California, where he quickly registered as a legal medi-pot patient. However, in 2009 he was extradited back to Oklahoma to serve additional time behind bars.

Overall, some 13,000 Oklahomans are busted for pot annually. Only 12 other states arrest a greater percentage of their population for weed, and arguably no state sentences those convicted more harshly.

2. Texas. On an annual basis, no state arrests and criminally prosecutes more of its citizens for pot than does Texas. Marijuana arrests comprise over half of all annual arrests in the Lone Star State. It is easy to see why. In 2009, more than 97 percent of all Texas marijuana arrests — over 77,000 people — were for possession only. Those convicted face up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine, even upon a first conviction.

Despite Texas’ dubious distinction as the #1 pot prosecuting state in America, police and lawmakers have little interest in exploring alternatives. In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation (HB 2391) into law granting police the option of issuing a summons in lieu of an arrest in minor marijuana possession cases. Yet aside from police in Austin, long considered to be the state’s lone bastion of liberalism, law enforcement have continued to fervently make arrests in even the most trivial of pot cases.

In 2011, Houston Democrat Harold Dutton introduced House Bill 458, which sought to reduce penalties for the adult possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not exceeding $500 and no criminal record. Within weeks, over 2,500 Texans contacted their House members in support of the measure. Nonetheless, House lawmakers refused to even consider bringing the measure to a vote.

3. Florida. According to a 2009 state-by-state analysis by researcher and former NORML Director Jon Gettman, no other state routinely punishes minor marijuana more severely than does the Sunshine State. Under Florida law, marijuana possession of 20 grams or less (about two-thirds of an ounce) is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one-year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Marijuana possession over 20 grams, as well as the cultivation of even a single pot plant, are defined by law as felony offenses – punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. In recent years, state lawmakers have revisited the state’s marijuana penalties – in each case electing to enhance Florida’s already toughest-in-the-nation criminal punishments.

Ironically, despite the Sunshine State’s long history as one of the nation’s stiffest pot prosecutors, law enforcement have steadfastly refused to report their annual marijuana arrest data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Illinois is the only other state that elects to withhold this information from federal statisticians.

4. Louisiana. On May 6 the Associated Press reported on the case of Cornell Hood II, who received a life sentence for possessing two pounds of pot. Hood received the maximum sentence under Louisiana’s habitual drug offender law because he had three prior marijuana convictions, although none of them were significant enough to result in even a single day of jail time.

Multi-decade sentences for repeat pot offenders are hardly a rare occurrence. Under Louisiana law, a second pot possession conviction is classified as a felony offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. Three-time offenders face up to 20 years in prison. According to a 2008 expose published in the New Orleans City Business online, district attorneys are not hesitant to “target small-time marijuana users, sometimes caught with less than a gram of pot, and threaten them with lengthy prison sentences.”

Each year, cops make nearly 19,000 pot busts in the Bayou State – some 91 percent for simple possession – and according to Gettman, only three other states routinely punish minor offenders so severely.

5. Arizona. Forty years ago virtually every state in the nation defined marijuana possession as a felony offense. Today, only one state, Arizona, treats first-time pot possession in such an archaic and punitive manner.

Under Arizona law, even minor marijuana possession offenses may be prosecuted as felony crimes, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $150,000 fine. According to Jon Gettman’s 2009 analysis only Florida consistently treats minor marijuana possession cases more severely.

Annually, some 22,000 Arizonans are busted for pot and 92 percent of those arrested are charged with possession only. Citing the rising costs of these prosecutions at a time of shrinking state budgets, first-term GOP House lawmaker John Fillmore (Apache Junction) recently introduced legislation, HB 2228, to reduce pot possession to a non-criminal petty offense, punishable by no more than a $100 fine. So how did his supposedly “small government, no nanny state” colleagues respond to his proposal? With “a lot of smiles and laughs,” Fillmore told the Phoenix New Times. Predictably, HB 2228 failed to even receive a legislative hearing from his fellow lawmakers.

For a comprehensive breakdown of state-by-state marijuana penalties, visit NORML’s online map. Jon Gettman’s 2009 analysis, “The Marijuana Policy Almanac: Marijuana Arrests in the United States,” is available online.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).

Read the original post on AlterNet.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Latest CA Polls Show Big Boost in Prop 19 Support

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Public support for California’s Prop. 19 — which would legalize the private adult use and cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis, and allow local governments the option of regulating its commercial production and retail distribution — is up significantly, according to the latest statewide Field Poll, released on Sunday.

According to the Poll, 49 percent of respondents say that they would vote ‘yes’ on 19 ‘if the election were being held today.’ 42 percent say that they would vote ‘no.’

Self-identified Democrats, men, and non-partisan voters were most likely to back the measure.

The latest Field Poll numbers mark a significant improvement from the firm’s previous poll, conducted in July, which reported only 44 percent of respondents voting ‘yes’ and 48 percent voting ‘no.’

Two additional polls released last week also emphasize voter support for Prop. 19. A September 22 Public Policy Polling firm survey of 630 likely California voters found 47 percent of likely voters backed 19, versus 38 percent against. The most recent Survey USA poll of 569 California adults reported similar support, with 47 percent of respondents saying that they were ‘certain’ to back the measure, versus 43 percent opposed.

PollTracker.com, a website that posts aggregates results of all of the polls conducted on this issue to date shows Prop. 19 leading by 47 percent to 40 percent.

Speaking of Prop. 19, Dave Borden, Executive Director of StoptheDrugWar.org, recently posted an excellent commentary on the Huffington Post rebutting the myth that passage of Prop. 19 would somehow undermine medical marijuana in California. NORML has addressed this minority (and fallacious) opinion numerous times on this site and on the Audio Stash blog, but Dave really hits it out of the park here.

Prop 19 Would Help — Not Hurt — Medical Marijuana Patients
via Huffington Post
[Excerpt: Read the full text HERE.]
Are they misinformed or deliberately lying? I don’t know anymore.

A group of medical marijuana dispensaries organized as the California Cannabis Association has come out against Prop 19, California’s “Tax and Regulate Cannabis” initiative to legalize marijuana.

The coalition claims that Prop 19’s provisions giving local jurisdictions the power to regulate cannabis sales, including the right to choose whether to allow commercial or other outlets, would enable them to prohibit the sale of medical marijuana to patients, something that under California they currently can’t do.

… The claim is completely false.

… Fortunately, only some medical marijuana people are so shortsighted as to oppose this historic and important measure. Harborside Health Center in Oakland, and the Berkeley Patients Group are among the top quality groups lending their support to Prop 19. But it’s still worth asking, why are some other medical marijuana providers opposing it?

… I say enough is enough. Whether they are doing it deliberately, or out of deliberate ignorance, they should stop spreading misinformation about Prop 19. Shame on the California Cannabis Association. And YES on PROP 19!

I also have added my two cents to this ongoing debate. In particular, I’ve addressed the allegation expressed by the so-called ‘Stoners against Prop. 19‘ (and repeated by others) that argues, “Simply put, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative does not reflect most people’s ideas of what legalization would be.” Perhaps that may be true for a minority of reformers. But the conflict doesn’t lie with Prop. 19; it lies with some people’s ‘idea of what legalization should be.’

Coming to Terms With Taxation, Regulation, and California’s Prop. 19
via HighTimes.com
[Excerpt: Read the full text HERE.]

This November, California voters will decide on Proposition 19, which seeks to enact the most far-reaching marijuana law reforms anywhere in the United States. The immediate effect of Prop. 19, if passed, would be to provide legal protection to the individual marijuana consumer – that is the estimated 3.3 million Californians who are presently using marijuana for non-medical purposes.

Yet as is apparent by the criticism voiced by some, there’s a minority of folks who wish to define cannabis legalization unconventionally. They would prefer that legalization be characterized as the absence of any regulation whatsoever. It’s ironic because, in truth, it is the present criminal prohibition of cannabis that is an unregulated free for all. Conventional legalization is just the opposite.

It is counter-intuitive for some critics of Prop. 19 to advocate that marijuana be treated in a ‘legal’ manner, but then at the same time demand that it not be subject to regulation. Bottom line: all legal commodities are regulated in some manner and their retail production or sale is subject to taxation.

For example, cell phones are legal to possess and use in California, but if an individual uses his or her cell phone while driving they are subject to legal sanctions and intervention by law enforcement.

Possessing domesticated pets is legal in California and elsewhere, yet certain apartments and home rentals forbid tenants from having pets on the premises. Certain localities have even barred adults from possessing certain pets (e.g., pit bulls) all together.

Water is legal, but it’s a product that is highly regulated by the government. The state taxes private individuals’ water use; it can add components like fluoride to the product without voter consent, and it can even sanction the private individual if their water use is greater than that deemed appropriate by the government (in times of water rationing). Yet, even with these rules and regulations, is there any organized outcry from the public claiming that water, pets, or cell phones ‘aren’t really legal?’

Ditto for the subject of taxation. Gasoline is taxed at the state level, federal level, and there’s also an excise tax that is passed on to the consumer. Same with alcohol. There are a multitude of taxes that are charged to the consumer on his or her phone bill. How about the taxes tacked on to airline travel, which equal nearly 25 percent of the consumer’s total purchase price? The number of specific taxes and regulations sought to be imposed upon marijuana under Prop. 19 are arguably minimal in comparison to the taxes and regulations on many commodities consumers already use every day. In fact, under the proposition, an adult can grow marijuana themselves and avoid any taxes all together.

Is there the possibility that under Prop. 19 some local governments might seek to over-regulate or over-tax certain aspects of the plant’s use or retail distribution? Of course. [Editor's note: And that is why reformers will continue to need to be involved in the local democratic process after 19 passes.] But ultimately, the question is: what is the preferable policy for adult marijuana use – not the Utopian. Right now the state has the power of a gun to seize an adult’s marijuana – even marijuana that is used in the privacy of one’s home – and to sanction that adult with criminal prosecution and a criminal record if their use is for non-medical purposes. Under Prop. 19, an individual would no longer face these criminal sanctions for their private activities, as long as their private use was limited to possession and cultivation within certain limits. That is legalization. And in NORML’s opinion, that is a net gain – not a net loss.

This article appeared originally on the NORML blog.

Paul Armentano is co-author of Marijuana Is Safer.