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Life Without Parole for Pot? 10 Worst Cases of Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Our government spends more than $7 billion annually to enforce marijuana prohibition in shockingly cruel ways, but the efforts have not deterred marijuana use.

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Most of the charges, including those for child abuse, have been dropped.

5. School Loans Suspended for Pot Pipe

Eighteen-year-old Marisa Garcia was about to become a freshman at California State University, Fullerton. Like most college students, Garcia could not afford to pay her tuition on her own, so she applied for financial aid. While filling out her Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) form, Garcia ran into Question #23: "Have you ever been convicted of a drug offense?"

Garcia answered yes. Earlier that month, she was busted for a pipe with some marijuana residue, and paid a $415 fine for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Because she was honest, Garcia was denied financial aid for one year. Her only other choice was to complete a six-month-long drug rehabilitation course. But Garcia couldn’t afford an in-patient treatment program, nor did she believe she had a problem that required treatment. Rather than enter rehab, Garcia was able to double her hours at a part-time job and get some help from her mother, who used credit cards and equity in her home to cover the rest of her tuition.  

Garcia’s case wasn't an isolated incident. More than 200,000 students have lost federal loans, grants and work-study since the Higher Education Act adopted the Aid Elimination Penalty in 2000, many of them for weed busts.

6. Five Years for MS Sufferer

Jon Ray Wilson, 39, suffers from multiple sclerosis. To slow the progression of his condition, he grew and used marijuana.  Then, he went to jail for it.

In November 2009, Wilson was sentenced to five years in prison for possessing and manufacturing marijuana plants. The judge barred Wilson from telling the jury that he grew pot to relieve his symptoms, and did not allow an expert witness to testify on the benefits of marijuana for MS patients.

Granted entry into the Intensive Supervision Program, Wilson was released from prison this June. For 16 months, he must follow an array of rules that include wearing an electronic monitor, meeting curfew and holding a job. Cruelly, he is also required to pass drug tests, even though he qualifies for New Jersey’s medical pot program.

In January 2010, New Jersey legalized medical marijuana for a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis. Two and a half years later, however, no dispensaries have opened.

7. Puppycide

Shooting the “stash” (or family) dog is standard in SWAT raids, the chaos of which also often includes flash-bang grenades. The Whitworth family’s experience was especially sad.

In 2010 a SWAT team busted into the Whitworth family’s Missouri home at about 8:30pm. The family’s dogs barked at the loud intrusion, and the SWAT team responded by shooting them, killing a pit bull and injuring a Corgi. When 25-year-old Jonathan Whitworth learned that police had shot his dogs, he began sobbing and asking why killing the family pets had been necessary. “They were probably trying to play with you,” he cried. Making matters worse, police temporarily held his wife and 7-year-old son just feet away from their dead dog's body.

After scaring the family half to death and killing their pet, police uncovered a grinder, pipe and small amount of pot. Ironically, it was Whitworth -- the victim of a violent raid on his home, including shots fired -- who was charged with child endangerment.  

8. Mother of Four Gets 12 Years for $31 Sale

A $31 pot sale can get you a 12-year prison sentence in Oklahoma. That’s exactly what happened to Patricia Spottedcrow, a first-time offender and mother of four.

An Oklahoma judge recently modified Spottedcrow’s sentence to eight years, which is still a whopping punishment for selling $30 worth of  weed. The four-year reduction seems even stingier when you consider Spottedcrow’s behavior behind bars –  while in prison, she took parenting classes, finished her GED and participated in several other self-improvement programs.

"Her new behavior should be noted, complimented and rewarded," the judge said. "However, she has only served a relatively short portion of her sentence. This court believes she needs more time to prepare and mature. Her past behavior had consequences. She is experiencing those consequences now."

Eight years to “prepare and mature” in a cage? How that can be good for anyone, or for their children?

9. Life in Prison for the Middleman

When he was 38, Mark Young caught a drug trafficking conviction for 700 pounds of marijuana. A middleman, Young did not distribute the pot, but introduced people looking to sell to other people who were looking to buy. That was a year and a half before police arrested him.   

Investigators uncovered no physical evidence -- pot, cash or anything else -- linking Young to trafficking. The testimony of co-conspirators cooperating with the government was the only evidence against him. Nonetheless, in 1992, Mark Young was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Young had never been charged with drug dealing, and had no history of violent crime.

10. The Commonality of Life for Pot

That same year, Larry Jackson, a small-time crook with a long record of nonviolent offenses, got life behind bars for possessing less than 1/100th of a gram of pot and a little cocaine in Oklahoma.

As Eric Schlosser wrote in Reefer Madness, Oklahoma is among the worst places to get busted for weed, but it’s not the only state where you can catch a life sentence for pot: