6 Ways the Criminalization of Marijuana Defies All Reason and Logic
Photo Credit: TorbenHansen via Flickr
Here at The Russ Belville Show, we read reports on the War on (Certain American Citizens Using Non-Pharmaceutical, Non-Alcoholic, Tobacco-Free) Drugs every day. While all aspects of the Prohibition War are tragic and absurd, here are six ways that the criminalization of marijuana defies all reason and logic.
1. Pot smokers punished more than molesters?
Drugs are so reviled in our society that using them is considered worse than any other crime. If you commit violent crimes – arson or rape, for instance – a judge will determine all the facts of the case and consider your criminal record, if any, in sentencing you to prison or not. But if you are caught selling or growing marijuana, there are mandatory minimum sentences involved at the federal and most state levels that take the power of sentencing out of a judge’s hands and turns it into a Chinese take-out menu – a marijuana plant from Column A, within 1000 feet of a school from Column B, that’ll be 10 years with no parole, please.
Still don’t believe drug use is considered worse than violent crime? Then why does our federal government pay a bounty for drug arrests, but no other arrests? These monies are called Byrne Grants and they are awarded to local police department for the express purpose of fighting drug crime. In actuality, they incentivize police to go after low-level drug offenders for the easy stat-padding drug arrest, rather than the tougher-to-catch-and-prosecute drug kingpins or the actual violent criminals out there.
Still not convinced? Then explain how the Supreme Court could find the death penalty unconstitutional to punish the raping of a child, but there still exists on the books a federal death penalty for growing 60,000 marijuana plants? Or how a serial raping arsonist in Montana gets less time than a guy who merely rented space to a medical marijuana dispensary? Or how a guy who pleads no contest tosodomizing a four-year-old in Oklahoma gets a year behind bars but a college student with a keif box could get life in prison. Or why there are more arrests for marijuana possession almost every year than for all violent crimes combined?
2. The separation of church and weed.
Even an American educated in one of our fine public schools knows our Constitution recognizes our freedom of religion. You can be Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, or have no religion at all, and that right is so important our Founding Fathers made it part of our First Amendment, just a few pages after the parts about their black people being 60% human. You may practice your religion any way you choose, so long as you don’t violate other laws. So inquisitions, stoning gays, and plural marriages are out, no matter how strongly your God boldfaced and italicized them in the manual.
But even then, our courts have given believers some latitude to violate laws in the name of religion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of drugs as a “holy sacrament”. A parent allowing their seven-year-old child a gulp of wine at the Olive Garden might earn a visit from Child Protective Services, but the same gulp at the cathedral is acceptable for children when it is the Blood of Christ. And our Supreme Court has ruled that the use of an illegal Schedule I drug can be allowed for adherents of a South American religion using ayahuasca tea, a powerful hallucinogen that is considered sacrament by believers. Our Congress even went so far as to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to protect such use when the Supreme Court allowed the State of Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to two Native Americans who were fired over sacramental peyote use.
So that’s great news for the sincere Rastafarians and Coptic Christians who consider ganja to be the“treeof life” and “the healing of the nations”, right? Or, for that matter, any Jew or Christian who believes their creation story’s descriptions of ”every herb bearing seed”, right?
Nope. In this case, their God picked too popular a sacrament. In passing the RFRA, Congress sought to restore “the Sherbert Test”. Under Sherbert, Congress can only prevent someone from exercising their religion if it can show a compelling state interest to do so, and has tried to do so in the least burdensome way to the religion.
In the case of drug laws, the compelling state interest is preventing you from using drugs. Very few people use ayahuasca tea or peyote, it doesn’t grow everywhere, the religions that find them sacred are well-established in historical tradition, and the sincere adherents are easily identifiable. So allowing a few native religious believers their powerful psychedelic sacraments isn’t going to seriously hinder any efforts to prevent you from using those drugs.
But your herb stash? That’s different, because there are 26 million Americans who are toking at least once a year and pot grows like a weed. Allowing the Rastas to freely use their sacred ganja would mean a huge rise in the number of stinky white kids with bad dreadlocks claiming to be Rastas just to avoid arrest. Worse, from the prohibitionist point of view, the Spicolis and Slaters of the world would suddenly become prophets of countless Churches of the Holy Bong, and trying to stop anyone from using, buying, growing, or selling pot would become near impossible.
3. A patient on one of side of the border and a criminal on the other.
It is easy enough to find examples where differing state laws make you a criminal on one side of an imaginary line but not on the other. Sell a plastic coochie for your iPad in Phenix City, Alabama, and you’re a criminal, but cross the Chattahoochie River into Columbus, Georgia, and you’re an “adult shop owner”. And of course that applies to the numerous states that have passed medical marijuana laws and their non-medical marijuana neighbors. But what people don’t realize about medical marijuana states is that most don’t recognize each other.
Only Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, and Rhode Island of the currently 17 states that recognize medical marijuana will accept the cards / recommendations from other medical marijuana states. So California and New Mexico patients who cross the border into Arizona would be safe, but Arizona patients who cross into California or New Mexico could be arrested for marijuana possession.
Nowhere is it more absurd than the case of the Pacific Northwest medical marijuana states, Oregon and Washington. Both states have virtually the same list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Both states allow patients to cultivate more than a dozen cannabis plants. Both states allow patients to possess up to a pound and a half (680 grams) of usable medicine.
But if a Portland patient crosses the Columbia River into Vancouver with 40 grams of pot, he’s a felon. If the Vancouver patient crosses into Portland with 28 grams of pot, she’s a felon. Lesser amounts get you a 24-hour mandatory minimum jail stay in Washington but only a ticket and loss of driver’s license (even if you weren’t driving) in Oregon.
Can you imagine if getting your driver’s license was something you had to do for each state you wanted to drive through? Now imagine that instead of a driving license, we were talking about licensing whether or not you would be able to eat today and not suffer bone-wracking pain and spasms, and you had to renew this license at full cost every year.
4. Fine line between legal gardening and a felony.
In those 17 medical marijuana states, trying to determine which pot smokers are healthy enough to deserve a cage and which ones are sick enough to protect from arrest is bound to lead to logical absurdities. Fourteen of the states allow patients or their caregivers to tend a garden to grow their own medicine. To deter large-scale growing operations, some states have implemented limits on the number of marijuana plants a patient may grow.
In a state like Washington, this is simple enough, as the state has specified fifteen as the total number of plants allowed. But in Oregon and some other medical marijuana states, a distinction has been made between “mature” and “immature” marijuana plants. Oregon’s limit is the most generous, allowing six “mature” and eighteen “immature” plants, to accommodate the fact that patients have to keep a continuous cycle of plants coming into maturity in order to maintain a steady supply of medicine.
However, the law completely abandons horticultural science in defining what a “mature” marijuana plant is. In nature, a mature plant is one that is producing flowers, or in the case of cannabis, the buds that patients are putting into bongs, vaporizers, and brownies. But in the Oregon Revised Statutes, a “mature” plant is one that is greater than 12 inches in any direction or is producing buds. So your thirteen-inch pot plant vegetating in the closet is “mature”, even though it is weeks from being mature. It would be like setting the limits of sexual consent based on how tall a child is.
This has led to situations where growers are diligently following the law, tending six flowering mature plants and the next three sets of six plants in three stages, only to have one set shoot up from ten inches to fourteen inches over a weekend growth spurt. Now the grower has twelve “mature” plants, even though only the six mature plants can produce any marijuana, and he’s no longer a patient, he’s a felon.
5. Feds denying that marijuana is medicine at all costs.
The government’s intransigence on the medical utility of cannabis is the most stubborn and hypocritical federal policy ever. The feds will tell you, with a straight face, that marijuana is a Schedule I substance and as such has no recognized medical value within the United States, even as seventeen states expressly recognize its medical value.
Now if you complain about the 17,000 peer-reviewed research papers sitting in the federal PubMed database that demonstrate medical use of cannabis, you’re barking up the wrong tree. This is a federal government that itself has patented the medical utility of cannabis and still tells you it is not medicine.
As if that weren’t hypocritical enough, the US government maintains a pot farm at the University of Mississippi. This is the one legal weed grow in America, expressly allowed under the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs for the production of cannabis for research purposes. In 1975, a glaucoma sufferer named Robert Randall sued for the right to use marijuana, lest he go blind, and won. This decision led to the development of the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program that produced and delivered medical marijuana for Randall.
Shortly thereafter, more patients sued to get access to medical marijuana, expanding to a few more federal medical marijuana patients. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, AIDS activists began marshaling thousands of applications for HIV+ gay men who found marijuana to help combat the symptoms of their disease. So rather than expand the compassion to thousands who would have benefited, the Bush Administration in 1992 closed the program to new applicants and the Clinton Administration in 1999 declared it would not be reopened.
However, the program was not closed to the patients who had already been approved. Today there are four remaining federal medical marijuana patients who receive a tin of eight or more ounces of pre-rolled federal medical marijuana from the federal medical marijuana farm every month. But, federally speaking, there is no such thing as medical marijuana.
6. The Drug Enforcement Administration forbids cultivation of a non-drug.
Nothing is more absurd in the war on marijuana than the ban on industrial hemp. If you don’t know, hemp is also cannabis, but cultivated differently as to produce a seed and fiber crop that is exceptionally low in any drug value. It takes anywhere from 2% to 4% THC content (tetrahydrocannabinol, the “high” ingredient in pot) for someone to cop a buzz off weed. Some of the finer medical marijuana varieties may top 15% THC content. By law and international agreements, industrial hemp must be produced at less than 0.3% THC content. It’s safe to say that there is a greater alcohol concentration allowed in a “near-beer” than THC concentration in hemp. There’s more THC in my bloodstream as I write this than is found in a field of industrial hemp plants.
But even though there is absolutely no way one can use hemp as a drug, its cultivation is banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration, because it contains any amount of THC. If this standard were applied to other drugs, you’d never have another legal poppy seed bagel, because they contain trace amounts of opium. SWAT teams would be raiding your grandma’s house for the decorative poppies in her backyard garden, as they could actually be processed into heroin.
This is even more maddening when you realize how keeping hemp illegal works against the DEA’s stated goal of reducing outdoor marijuana cultivation. Though some cops seem to think hemp would allow pot growers to hide their illegal crop, cross-pollination of hemp into marijuana makes both crops worse. The marijuana becomes less “druggy” and the hemp becomes less “industrial”. The last thing a marijuana grower wants next to his prized plants is a hemp farm.