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 U.S. states are challenging a plethora of outdated laws concerning the substance’s medicinal use, and the results have sparked a national debate on the legalization of recreational cannabis use, sale, and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.