Drug Policy

Lifelong Penalties for Pot

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Although U.S. prisons are not filled with pot smokers (contrary to what you sometimes hear from overenthusiastic critics of the war on drugs), there are about 750,000 marijuana arrests in this country every year, the vast majority involving simple possession. They generally do not result in jail time, but the cost, inconvenience, and embarrassment of getting busted for pot is nothing to sneeze at. And as a new report from the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics notes, people convicted of minor marijuana offenses also suffer nonjudicial penalties that may persist for life, including "revocation or suspension of professional licenses, barriers to employment or promotion, loss of educational aid, driver's license suspension, and bars on adoption, voting and jury service."

According to the report, the states with the most severe collateral sanctions for marijuana offenses are Florida, Delaware, Alabama, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, Utah, Arizona, and South Carolina. Marijuana offenses trigger the least severe collateral sanctions in New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Missouri, Maine, Vermont, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and California. In terms of collateral sanctions, marijuana offeders often are treated as severely as violent felons, and in some cases (e.g., loss of student aid and welfare benefits) they suffer penalties that robbers, rapists, and murderers escape. Polls indicate that most Americans don't think peoople should go to jail for smoking pot. I wonder what they would say about lifetime disabilities such as being barred from adopting children or forbidden to practice one's profession.