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.
This post was originally published on August 2, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.