In recent years, medical marijuana has made a spectacularly controversial entrance into our daily narrative. U.S. states are challenging a plethora of outdated laws concerning the substance’s medicinal use, and the results have sparked a national debate on the legalization of recreational cannabis use, sale, and regulation. There are some states, however, that still treat marijuana like cocaine, heroin, and other drugs, despite research dispelling common misconceptions about the use of cannabis and its application to modern medicine. Here are 5 of the worst states to be caught using or possessing marijuana:
Getting caught with any amount of marijuana in Arizona will result in a felony charge, an almost impossibly hardened sentence in the opinions of many on both sides of the law. Though Arizona legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2010, recreational use is widely admonished and carries life-changing ramifications. Under the state’s laws, possession of less than two pounds will result in a Class 6 felony charge, over $100,000 in fines, and at least six months in jail; regardless of how little one possesses, this is the lowest sentence, and possession with intent to sell or cultivation both spell life behind bars. Even with medical marijuana legalized, medical users are still fighting for their right to have access to (and use) this treatment, and places like universities are being threatened with loss of federal funding if marijuana is permitted on-campus.
Another medically legal state (with updates to the law being added as recently as 2016), Florida has stiff penalties for recreational users. Any amount under 20 grams will garner up to a year in jail, a fine, and is tagged as a first-degree misdemeanor; those with more than 20 grams face up to five years. Charges in this state may not be as serious as they are in others, but the laws surrounding cannabis are more specialized and include harsher penalties for synthetic marijuana, as well as “marijuana addiction treatment” for those incarcerated. Consequently, an individual convicted in this state may have their driver’s license revoked, even if the offense occurred without a vehicle present or involved. Florida state laws on marijuana use are constantly changing, and lawmakers are often pushing for harsher sentences.
With possession of just 2 ounces being identified as a Class 1 misdemeanor under South Dakota law, “no person may knowingly possess marijuana” in any amount, and for no reason (medicinal or otherwise). Of the 13 states that have decriminalized recreational use of marijuana and the 46 with medical marijuana laws in place, South Dakota is one of the few left in total defiance. Even users from other states will be charged in the same way as anyone in possession of marijuana in this state, receiving penalties like a 90-day suspension of a person’s license if the substance is found in their vehicle. One report from Pierre, North Dakota reveals a cannabis user being forcibly catheterized after refusing to provide a urine sample to police, and recounts the experience as “degrading” and a violation of his rights.
Another recent addition to the list of states that allow medical cannabis use, Wisconsin’s laws for possession are relatively harsh; just a small amount is considered a Class 1 felony and will result in jail time and a hefty fine. Though many cities in Wisconsin are battling against state law (and 9 of the 10 major cities in the state have decriminalized possession of small amounts), some municipalities adhere strictly to state-appointed guidelines, which levy substantial charges against users. Medical marijuana users in the state are under no distinct advantage, as the statute renders extremely specific. Even the state’s Native American tribes are taking a stand against these strict laws, with the Menominee tribe voting to legalize both types of use on their reservations in 2015.
This state has staunchly resisted the uprising of medical marijuana for years, and outlaws all uses and forms of cannabis to anyone, even those legal in other states. An individual convicted of possessing less than 30 grams will serve jail time and be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, while anything over 30 grams will be tagged as a Class D felony, leaving Indiana with the award for the harshest laws against cannabis users. Those seeking respite in legal states will be prosecuted as well, since Indiana law states that a person caught with trace amounts of marijuana in their systems while driving will be subject to the same laws that apply to possession, even if no actual marijuana is present. In addition to these worrying statutes, research shows that African-Americans are three times as likely to be targeted and arrested for cannabis use.
The Santee Sioux, a small 400 person tribe, is aiming to open South Dakota’s first marijuana resort.
Located in South Dakota, the resort will be on the tribe’s reservation, alongside their current business ventures, which include a casino, hotel and buffalo ranch. With stiffer competition in those markets, the cannabis resort will be launched in hopes of creating a new profit-driven model for tribes looking to expand economically.
According to the tribe, the resort could reach an average profit of $2 million a month. The current plan is for the Sioux to grow their own marijuana and sell it in a smoking lounge, which will feature a nightclub, bar and food service, arcade games, as well as slot machines and an outdoor amphitheater in the future.
Consultant Jonathan Hunt checks seedlings growing in the new cannabis cultivation center on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation (AP Photo/Jay Pickthorn)
Anthony Reider, the tribal President, explained his hopes for the project:
“We want it to be an adult playground. There’s nowhere else in American that has something like this.”
Marijuana legalization for the Santee Sioux land was decided in June after the Justice Departments new policy that makes it legal for Native American tribes to grow and sell cannabis under similar regulations that many states have in place.
In order to create an efficient growing facility and program, the tribe hired Monarch America, a Denver-based consulting firm, to assist them in the process. Jonathan Hunt, Monarch America’s VP and chief grower, knows that it will be a complex process to get this resort up and running,
“This is not a fly-by-night operation. Tribal leaders want to show the state how clean, how efficient, how proficient, safe and secure this is as an operation. We are not looking to do anything shady.”
With many tribes using casinos as their main source of income, the Santee Sioux hope that this project can provide money for the community and offer monthly incomes to tribal members. Reider is hoping that the new income can go towards further housing developments, an addiction treatment clinic and improving the local health clinic.
Customers will only be allowed to buy one gram at a time and tracking of purchases is handled with the use of barcodes located on every package, which must be returned before being able to obtain more.
A New Year’s Eve Party on December 31 will mark the first day that cannabis is expected to go on sale.
(AP Photo/Jay Pickthorn)
In a landmark move, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Indian Reservation of eastern South Dakota became the first in the state to legalize the use and sale of marijuana on tribal lands.
The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe Executive Committee made the decision in June to allow for marijuana use in both medical and recreational capacities on its lands, furthering the tribe’s reputation as an organization unafraid of controversy.
“Throughout Indian country, Flandreau’s been trail-blazers,”
said Tribal President Anthony Reider (photo below), noting the tribe’s willingness to fight for what it believes even when those beliefs prove polarizing.
“We were with the casino, we were the second compacted tribe in the United States, the first and largest casino in between Atlantic City and Las Vegas, so it’s something that’s not new to us. We kind of like taking the forefront on issues.”
Currently, the tribe is outlining plans for a facility where the marijuana will be grown and cultivated and another, separate facility that will be used for medical and retail sales to individuals over the age of 21. It is expected that those under the age of 21 will be able to purchase and use marijuana if they are able to produce a doctor’s recommendation.
While some tribal residents share Reider’s sentiments and are eager for marijuana to become legal, others are more hesitant. The mayor of Flandreau, Mark Bonrud, is among those expressing trepidation. Bonrud said,
“We don’t see any benefits in having marijuana in one certain entity without any tax structure or anything that’s going to benefit the city, or the state of South Dakota.”
Seth Pearman, an attorney for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, said that safety and security measures would be in place to ensure marijuana was not unlawfully removed from designated locations. Furthermore, Pearman said marijuana would be sold in a highly controlled environment, and that sold quantities could not exceed one gram at a time. He noted that the intent is for people to buy and use marijuana in the same manner they would alcohol, and that the one-gram limit was designed to reduce overconsumption of the product that could lead to drugged driving.
Pearman also noted that in order to purchase marijuana legally on the reservation, customers would have to produce a valid registration card. He added that the new ordinance includes plans to create a three-member marijuana control commission to oversee the industry on reservation land.
Currently, the more than 300 federally recognized Indian Reservations across the U.S. can decide for themselves whether they want to legalize marijuana on tribal lands. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and its affiliates expect the first legal marijuana retail operation to be open sometime in early fall.