Thanks to the progressive steps taken by over half of the states in the US, cannabis is legal for medicinal or recreational use. However, a few states lag behind and individuals caught with cannabis face fines and prison sentences that highlight the divide between what’s legal and what’s not. Whether you live in one of the states with harsh cannabis laws or plan on visiting, think twice; you don’t want to get caught with cannabis in these 4 states.
With its neighbor states having all adopted some form of cannabis friendly policies, the cheese stands alone. In Wisconsin, there are no laws protecting individuals who use cannabis for medicinal purposes and certainly not for recreational use. If caught with cannabis, unless it’s a first offense (which is a misdemeanor and $1,000 fine), be aware that you’ll be charged with a felony, not to mention a hefty fine of anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. While a bill to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use is on its third draft by Representative Melissa Sargent, it’s hard to say whether or not the third time will be a charm.
Paying the harsh price in Wisconsin is Rodney Hudson. An unfortunate victim of the racial disparity that impacts African-Americans (they are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than others), Rodney is a convicted felon because he has more than one charge for possession of cannabis. He may be fortunate that he’s not behind bars, but bearing a record with a felony cuts deeply into his quality of life. There is no financial aid available to convicted felons who want to further their educations, their drivers licenses are suspended for six months (a significant hindrance in finding work), and they will have a harder time finding employment. What’s worse is that while more states are legalizing cannabis use, arrests for cannabis related crimes in Wisconsin continue to rise.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it…don’t get caught with cannabis in Tennessee. While the first couple of minor offenses warrant a misdemeanor charge, minimal fines of up to $500 and the possibility of one year behind bars, punishments increase depending on the charge. For amounts above one half ounce, felony charges apply with an exorbitant fine of up to $500,000 and depending on the charge, up to 60 years in prison.
Nashville and Memphis decriminalized cannabis over a year ago, giving police the ability to hand out citations as they saw fit. Unfortunately, the Tennessee House of Representatives recently passed a bill to nullify the laws that decriminalized it. This seems a regressive move, considering that both Nashville and Memphis are tourist hot spots.
Another state that’s unfriendly towards cannabis is Oklahoma. Individuals with more than a couple of minor offenses will face felony charges, exorbitant fines up to $500,000 and a possible life sentence in prison. While the governor there recently modified laws to allow CBD oil, no changes were made to allow the medicinal or recreational use of cannabis.
Having faced the unpleasant tune of life without parole, William Dufries was charged with transporting over sixty pounds of marijuana in Oklahoma in 2003. For a non-violent offense, the life without parole price tag is a hefty price to pay when violent offenders face less time behind bars. Dufries is not the only one; however, after his appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case, he has some hope for freedom. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has commuted his sentence, among a few others, to life in prison, providing the possibility of parole. Still, it will be a long and hard fight for Dufries and others charged with non-violent drug crimes who sit in prison and wait.
Unlike the song, Alabama isn’t so sweet when home is life behind bars because of cannabis related drug charges. Fines top out at $200,000 and for habitual offenders, even non-violent offenders, life in prison is a stark possibility.
Consider the cases of Richard Bolden and Carroll Brooker. Both non-violent offenders are serving life sentences in prison because they were busted with marijuana. Bolden, a father in his 40’s, and Brooker, in his 70’s, sit and wait. Neither feels their sentence is fair, especially considering how cannabis laws are changing all over the country. While they sit in prison until they die, others around the nation are free to use, transport, and sell cannabis without fear of such life-altering consequences.
For those living in states with relaxed cannabis laws, it’s hard to imaging paying such a heavy price as those who live in these 4 states do. While the wind of change is blowing, it’s hard to say how soon its message will reach the ears of those who pull the strings. With any luck, the progress that rest of the nation is making in regards to marijuana laws will rub off on them.
The federal government considers cannabis a Schedule I substance: a drug with no medicinal value and with a potential for addiction as strong as heroin. But one doctor believes that cannabis is not only safe, but that it’s far safer than what’s in your medicine cabinet.
Dr. Christopher Prince is a Michigan-based physician who specializes in emergency medicine, and now provides medical care in rural areas of the United States. Prince has seen plenty of drug overdoses during his career, but not once has he seen an overdose on cannabis.
“In 33 years of practice, I’ve never seen anyone come in with a pure problem from a marijuana overdose,” he said. “I’ve worked in the ER enough, I’ve seen [more] people who need liver transplants from Tylenol overdose.”
According to a report released in 2014, 67.8 percent of emergency room visits were attributed to drug overdoses, both illicit and prescribed. Based on his own observations, Prince is concerned about the overall clinical approach towards pain management, and the safety of medications being prescribed.
“We as physicians have found that people that are getting addicted [to painkillers] have been [doing so] because of our own treatment plans,” Prince said. “It isn’t because we [as physicians] don’t know what we’re doing, it’s because of how we’ve been pushed to treat pain. When you start comparing [current pain treatment] to marijuana, a lot of these other things are far more addictive.”
Prince is among the millions of doctors who have not witnessed a single lethal overdose of cannabis. This is because overdosing on cannabis is impossible. “The lethal doses of marijuana are so astronomically high that a human couldn’t consume that much in a single sitting,” he said. What Prince is seeing is painkillers at work, all of which reduce the amount of pain a patient experiences, but in many different ways and with different side effects.
Acetaminophen has been used for centuries to treat pain, but even modern medicine isn’t completely sure how it works in the body. The closest theory is that it blocks a particular enzyme called cyclooxygenase, also referred to as COX. Researchers have known about this enzyme for quite a long time, and it seems that the human body likes to use this enzyme to tell the brain something is wrong, resulting in pain. Aspirin functions similarly, and has been used even longer than acetaminophen. These two drugs are considered save enough to sell over the counter, but have long-term side effects like liver damage and and stroke.
“Tylenol and aspirin, in my opinion, are two of the most lethal painkillers out there, because you can self-medicate, and there’s no prescription required,” said Prince. “They work well, but you start dealing with the abuse potential.”
But the more significant concern for health care providers are opioid painkillers. Opioids work by blocking opioid receptors in the brain and spine. What makes these medications addictive is the amount of dopamine released while the drug is active. Taken over time, the brain becomes dependent on the amount of dopamine being released.
This effect is similar to how cannabis works in the body, but with some notable exceptions. While there are both opioid receptors and cannabinoid receptors in the brain, the location of them differentiates the effect they have on the body. Unlike cannabinoid receptors, those for opioids are located in areas of the brain responsible for essential bodily functions, like respiration, which is why opioids can be lethal and cannabinoids, effectively, are not.
Even after these differences are established and other substances are deemed more dangerous, cannabis is still viewed as a gateway drug that leads the user to more harmful substances. But Dr. Prince believes that gateway appears earlier in a patient’s history of addiction.
“If you think about it, the majority of the people that use harder drugs started out using marijuana,” said Prince.
“Because it was their first drug, people assume that’s what led to them wanting a bigger high. If you start thinking about addiction, start thinking about alcohol and tobacco, because they’re both more addictive than cannabis.”
Although mainstream medicine has yet to acknowledge the potential for cannabis to treat pain, Dr. Prince is cautiously moving forward with cannabinoid-based therapies for his own patients.
“[Medical marijuana] has been working well for several of the patients [my practice has] been seeing,” he said. “How much of that is marijuana or other medications [they are taking] is anyone’s guess.”
When trying to pass medical cannabis legislation, changing a few details might appease the lawmakers skeptical about cannabis. In the case of Pennsylvania, that means patients only have access to the most expensive types of cannabis products.
Pennsylvania has what is called a “no-smoke” medical cannabis program. The intention was to limit patients from the harmful effects of smoking, even though research shows the side effects of cannabis smoke are minimal. Keeping flowers and plant material illegal means patients will be purchasing concentrate products like wax and shatter. Edible tinctures are also an option, but patients will be paying over $100 for 100mg of THC, which could last critically ill patients a few days or a week.
Concentrated cannabis products are popular among recreational buyers because they deliver a powerful effect in a quicker, smaller size. Customers pay a premium for these products when sold by weight, but even more when they are packaged in prefilled cartridges. They are discreet and efficient, and manufacturers are continuously improving the experience by preserving terpenes and the flavors of the strain, giving the user an experience closer to smoking cannabis flowers but without the smoke. As more medical cannabis patients have entered the legal cannabis market, their interest in alternative consumption methods means manufactures are making high-CBD concentrates, cartridges and edibles to meet demand.
Having an open cannabis market where prices are reasonable for these products means more patients can access the right products for their needs and budget. But Pennsylvania’s laws mean very few patients must purchase their medicine at an inflated price. The aforementioned 100mg tincture costs about $12.50 to make, but is priced at over $100 in states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois where medical cannabis is highly regulated and allows for a limited amount of growers. In California’s medical marijuana market, a similar 100mg tincture sells for about $35.
While the “no smoke” rule may have been well-intentioned, it punishes the sickest patients. Pennsylvania’s qualifying conditions top out at 17, all of which are serious enough that they could keep a patient from working, limiting their income to disability assistance. Taking into account the medical bills for these conditions, a patient might have to spend thousands of dollars a month to get relief. The obvious path for these patients who need medical cannabis is a black market where prices are still inflated, but nowhere near a 400 percent markup seen in some medical cannabis programs.
Pennsylvania is a great example of how cannabis legislation can do more harm than good when implemented incorrectly. Restrictive programs that limit the number of growers and the types of products available, that are priced so high and/or taxed so much that patients are unable to afford them will lead to what lawmakers fear the most: an increased black market presence, a collapsed cannabis industry with no customers, sick patients unable to find relief (or find it in other harmful medicines), and wasted time and effort on creating legislation that doesn’t represent the will of the voters.
Even states that have more open cannabis regulation can learn from these programs. Using legal cannabis as a new source of tax revenue drives up prices enough to help fuel a black market. The result is a legal atmosphere that allows for cannabis possession, even if customers are using black market sources.
Depending on the success of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program, regulations could change to allow for the sale of flowers, which would be a more affordable source of medicine for patients. But it would have to accompany a more open market and regulations regarding pricing for medical cannabis products. If lawmakers truly want to help patients, medical cannabis needs to be affordable and accessible.
Before there was plastic and aluminum, or even paper, there was hemp. It is one of the strongest, most versatile and relatively inexpensive natural materials on the planet. Humans have been cultivating hemp longer than almost any other crop, and we discover new uses for hemp even today.
Unfortunately, federal prohibition of cannabis means hemp’s miniscule amount of THC is considered dangerous by the U.S. government, and it is listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. America imports about half a billion dollars worth of hemp products each year, a crop that can be easily grown in many agricultural zones all over the country. “We are the only industrialized nations not to allow it,” said Joseph Yost of the Virginia state legislature and a supporter of legalizing industrial hemp.
With more states supporting cannabis legalization, there could be room for hemp in the nation’s economy. The environmental benefits of using hemp in place of other materials cannot be ignored, nor can the health benefits of the plant.
CBD and beyond
While natural hemp has a very low amount of THC, it does contain cannabidiol (CBD), which is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is sought after by medical cannabis patients. While many strains of cannabis contain more concentrated amounts of both THC and CBD, hemp is a cheaper source of CBD due to its hardiness as a crop.
By moving away using wood for paper products and building materials, hemp could slow down or possibly stop deforestation, a direct threat to the environment. Trees used for lumber and paper products take a lifetime to mature, but hemp needs four months in order to be ready for harvest and put to industrial use. Within a 20-year time period, an acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4-10 acres of trees. Hemp is also particularly suited to thrive on carbon dioxide, and
Major advances in mixing hemp with other substances has led to the creation of a sustainable building material that also acts as an insulator. While not as strong as concrete, “hempcrete” is already being used in buildings in Europe as a construction material for applications like flooring, interior walls and insulation. Being able to use hempcrete and hemp-based building materials to replace other products like concrete, fiberglass insulation, and drywall would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry. Hempcrete is also one of the few industrial materials that is carbon negative.
Hemp is one of the easiest crops to grow on an industrial and agricultural scale. It requires almost no pesticides, minimal water, and is adaptable to changing weather and climates. Soy is one of the most commonly grown crops in the U.S., but it can typically fetch $71 per acre. By comparison, industrial hemp nets roughly $250 per acre, and is a less-costly crop to grow. Farmers have been pressuring lawmakers to ease restrictions on growing industrial hemp, and they have an unlikely ally in Senator Mitch McConnell, who helped sponsor a farm bill in 2014 that allowed more states to grow hemp legally.
But there are still plenty of restrictions on growing hemp in the United States, which has kept hemp from contributing to the nation’s economy. Perhaps cannabis legalization will help make hemp free and legal, benefiting several industries as well as our plan
David Cicero of Nashville Tenn. has been arrested for operating a “makeshift marijuana shop” out of his home.
Thanks to a tip from a concerned citizen, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department charged Cicero with possession of marijuana for resale and unlawful use of drug paraphernalia. His bond has been set at $15,000. It appears Cicero was running a business that sold multiple types of cannabis products, including concentrates, edibles, and plant material. About $30,000 and packaging materials were also confiscated by police.
Many states have moved to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis that are clearly intended for personal use, but Tennessee is definitely not one of those states. The penalties for possessing over half an ounce of cannabis in Tennessee can earn a person a felony charge, and/or a $5000 fine. The type of felony is a Class E, which is considered the least serious felony classification and has a maximum of three years in prison.