Who's the Medieval Barbarian? Taliban vs. U.S. Marijuana Policy

There are not too many nice things that can be said about the Taliban, the fundamentalist rulers of Afghanistan for the last five years. Their human rights record is atrocious, their choice of friends has proven disastrous, their treatment of women was right out of the 7th Century, they banned music and the destroyed priceless historical monuments out of spite. DRCNet has condemned the Taliban in this newsletter repeatedly since they first showed up in the drug war radarscope during the UN Drug Summit back in 1998. But when it comes to marijuana policy, the Taliban could learn a lesson or two in medieval fundamentalism from the US government and many US states.

According to a review of the Taliban penal code by New York Times reporter Amy Waldman, Article 6 of the penal code specifies the following penalty for pot-growing: "A person who cultivates marijuana will be jailed until his family members get rid of the plant."

Such punishment may sound draconian to enlightened societies, but it is positively benign compared with the United States. Under federal law, growing one plant can net you 15 to 21 months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000. For more than one hundred plants, you're looking at a five-year mandatory minimum sentence and up to 40 years maximum.

While the states' treatment of marijuana growers varies, almost all of them require jail or prison sentences. A few examples: In Wisconsin, growing fewer than 10 plants can result in a three-year prison sentence. In West Virginia, any cultivation can result in up to 15 years in prison; in Washington state, five years. A marijuana grower would have faced fewer sanctions in Kandahar than in Kansas City (5 to 15 years for any amount), less trouble in Mazar-e-Sharif than Memphis (1 to 5 years for growing more than a half ounce), and fewer headaches in Tora Bora than Tulsa (2 years to life for any amount).

Criminal sanctions are one thing. Marijuana growers in the US can also anticipate no-knock raids by masked, heavily armed men, the seizure of all their money and property, thousands of dollars in legal expenses, and a lengthy regimen of drug testing. Oh, yeah, and they won't be able to get student loans, either.

The Taliban may be brutal, thuggish, backward-looking, fundamentalist fanatics, but when it comes to marijuana policy, they've got nothing on the US.

Philip Smith edits DRCNet's Week Online.

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