Now that we’ve had a moment to champion the good, it’s time we move on to the bad and the ugly. As much as the legal weed debate revolves around state’s rights and safe access, the crux of the discussion centers on the human cost. The stats say it all. Disparities in sentencing between black and white non-violent drug offenders leave African American’s as much as eight times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession depending on which pocket of the south you find yourself in.
It’s also no surprise that the states with the strictest enforcement of marijuana laws are those in the south with historically high incarceration rates, where the private prisons and the prison-industrial complex are most directly at work. Despite crime rates continuing to drop across the country (a 30-plus year trend,) non-violent drug arrests continue to rise. Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow unpacks this better than this writer (or most) ever could, so let’s just chalk that up as required reading for anyone that’s really looking for the vestiges of slavery and how the War on Drugs only compounded longstanding economic and political barriers for equal prosecution under the law.
As our bit of public service for the day, we’ve compiled a list of states you shouldn’t be caught dead in with even a speck of leaf. The ones most certainly ignoring the call of their constituents and cracking down most severely on the disenfranchised. In some of these states, sale is still a felony and possession can get you locked up for as long as 5 years for a single joint. If you happen to live in one, be sure to refer to your local NORML chapter for a comprehensive guide to your rights under the respective laws of your state.
It should be noted that most of these states actually have some form of medical marijuana legislation in effect, but have restricted access so severely that it’s nearly impossible for a patient with actual medicinal needs to safely procure their treatment. For those neglected patients, a lawyer will also be handy.
Like the rest of the country, marijuana use in black and white communities is nearly identical. However, African Americans are nearly six times as likely to be arrested and prosecuted according to an ACLU study. It’s a far cry from their former title as the nation’s leading industrial hemp manufacturer. Last year, Kentucky legislators proposed a bill that sought to legalize recreational use and sale in the state, but failed to take action. At the top of 2017, Sen. Perry Clark introduced SB 76, a second swing at the end of prohibition and downright racist incarceration gaps.
With black users being 4 times as likely to be arrested for possession, Bama’s yet another instance of the chronically-lagging south. The state’s laws are so stiff that a second possession charge and a first trafficking charge bear equally heavy repercussions; both felonies and punishable by a mandatory minimum of one year and one day in jail. Even year first possession charge could land you in prison for up to a year for as little as one joint. Steer clear of the Crimson State, dear stoners.
While the state is one of the few in the south with some semblance of protections for at least medicinal users, it’s failed set up any sort of system to actually supply a patient’s medication. It also maintains some of the strictest penalties for possession in the country, with two ounces on your person being punishable by up to 10 years in prison. According to the ACLU, African Americans in Georgia are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white users.
Even with 73% of Hoosiers supporting the creation of a state-run medical marijuana program, lawmakers have been deaf to the overwhelming demand for safe access, and have done little to roll back another set of the nation’s most mind-numbingly harsh penalties. With just a joint in your pocket, authorities are capable of locking you up for up to a year and slapping on a $5,000 fine. The ACLU found that African Americans are 3 times as likely to be arrested for possession as white users in a state where the rate of use is equal. Yet another reason to avoid the Ameican midwest almost entirely.
Few things wreak of racial inequality the way South Dakota does. A state where African Americans are 4.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white users also boasts a singular piece of legislation that criminalizes not only having weed on you, but in you. You read that correctly, South Dakota is the only place in the continental US of A with an “internal possession,” which effectively slaps on a fine and/or jailtime for mere consumption, regardless of the plant’s legality in the state it was consumed. Even possession of a small amount on your persons is punishable by 2 years in jail and a $2,000 fine. When venturing through the Dakotas, be sure to take the northern trail.
It’s both a relief and a little sad to know it took Oklahoma until last year’s elections to finally strip marijuana possession of a felony classification. As of July 1st, all possessions will be looked at as misdemeanor offenses, but let’s never forget this is the place that once sentenced a man to life in prison for .16 grams of weed back in 1992. In a state where African-Americans are 2.9 times more likely to be arrested for possession, Okalahoma should be avoided at all costs, even if you’re just passing through.
The adopted home of The Jazz is not here for the funny cigarettes. Touted by the MPP (Marijuana Policy Project) as one of the strictest states on possession, Utah legislators lock up 3.75 times more black residents than white. And while 72% of the state’s population is in favor of at least a comprehensive medical program, the most recent bill to hit a senate committee, S.B. 211, does little to establish protections or even qualifying conditions for safe access. Currently, possession of up to an ounce can result in up to six months in jail. Read: get your jazz elsewhere.
For a state that prides itself on maintaining rights, Iowan lawmakers have done little to curb the disproportionate arrest rates of black residents. According to the ACLU, African-Americans in Iowa are eight times more likely to be arrested for possession than their white neighbors (the highest rate in the country,) and recreational users could be subject to as long as six months in jail for a single joint, with a requisite $1,000 fine.
While cities like Memphis and Nashville have taken action to decriminalize possession, leaving prosecution at the discretion of the arresting officer (still very much problematic,) lawmakers have yet to heed the call of the 75% of its inhabitants calling for reform on the state level. There have been some strides made, however. Last year, legislators loosened up penalties by dropping the felony charge that was once associated with third and subsequent possession charges. Still, African-Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for possession than white Tennesseans.
Like Tennessee and Oklahoma, South Carolina is currently in a state of flux as legislators mull over the merits of a state-run medical marijuana system. At the moment, only those suffering from a (very) short list of conditions are protected under state law. Possession is a misdemeanor offense, but still, African-Americans are three times more likely to be arrested than white users in the state. A new bill, proposed on the first day of this year’s legislative calendar, S 212, seeks to establish a compassionate care program that would effectively grant patients access to legal medical marijuana from state-sanctioned dispensaries.