It’s 2022. We’re more than two decades into the 21st Century. It’s way past time to stop jailing people for weed.
But as shocking as it is, there are still 19 states where simple possession can land you in a cage. The Marijuana Policy Project released a new report to highlight the risk of jail in the states which have the worst pot laws.
In some of these states, penalties are shockingly harsh.
In benighted Alabama, for example, a first offense for any amount for personal use carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail. A repeat offense carries a mandatory minimum of a year and a day in jail.
Racial Disparities In Enforcement
Even worse, the police and courts do not enforce the pot laws equitably.
In every state, nationwide, police are more likely to arrest Black people than their white counterparts for cannabis possession. This is despite similar use rates.
For example, in Kentucky, Black people are 9.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
Cannabis prohibition has flat-out failed, MPP argues. The group consequently calls for marijuana legalization coast to coast. It recognizes that the most likely route to that laudable goal is through state governments.
Alabama recently became the 36th state to legalize medical marijuana. But it still has some of the harshest penalties in the country for simple possession.
Personal-use possession — even small amounts — is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $6,000. A repeat offense carries a mandatory minimum of one year and one day in jail.
According to a 2020 ACLU report, in Alabama, Black people are 4.1 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
Sixty-two percent of Alabamians believe marijuana should be legal. But with no ballot initiative process, it is up to the Alabama Legislature to act.
Despite having medical marijuana, Arkansas has some of the worst pot laws in the nation.
Possessing less than four ounces is a misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. It gets a lot worse if you have two possession convictions under your belt already. In that case, Arkansas can give you six years and a $6,000 fine for possessing an ounce or more.
Black Arkansans are 2.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Arkansans.
Arkansas residents largely support reforming the state’s marijuana laws, with 62% in support of making Cannabis legal.
Florida, the third most populous state in the nation, has medical Cannabis. Nevertheless, its 21.5 million residents live under threats of criminal convictions and jail time if they have weed without a card.
Currently, possession of 20 grams or less of Cannabis getsnoe year imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000. Possessing more than 20 grams is a felony. That’s punishsable with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine.
The Miami New Times revealed 42,153 people were arrested for misdemeanor cannabis possession in Florida in 2017. Nearly half of those arrestees were Black, even though Black residents make up only 17% of Florida’s population.
Seventy percent of Floridians support legalizing marijuana, according to MPP.
First-offense possession for an ounce or less of marijuana in Georgia carries a maximum penalty of up to one year of imprisonment. Deferred prosecution is possible for a first offense but involves five years of probation. The maximum penalty for a first offense for possessing more than one ounce is a mandatory minimum of one year.
Black people and white people use cannabis at nearly identical rates. But Black Georgians are three times more likely than white folks to be arrested for cannabis possession.
Seventy-one percent of Georgians want legal Cannabis.
In Idaho, possession of up to three ounces of marijuana gets a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
This draconian law hits minority communities by far the hardest. Black Idahoans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession than their white neighbors.
Sixty percent of Idahoans support making marijuana legal; the state is neighbored by four states with legal marijuana for adults. Still, the state lacks even medical cannabis protections. And there have been no substantive pushes from the legislature to reform the state’s cannabis policies.
Idaho has a ballot initiative process. So the voters themselves could decide on Cannabis reform. Local advocates are working to collect signatures for both a medical cannabis push and an effort to place a decriminalization measure on the 2022 ballot.
Indiana has some of the worst marijuana laws in the US. It is now one of only 13 states with no effective medical Cannabis law, and one of only 19 states that still imposes jail time for simple possession of weed. Possession of any amount of marijuana — even a single joint — carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000.
Both Indiana’s neighbor to the north, Michigan, and its neighbor to the west, Illinois, have legalized marijuana for adult use. Two thirds — 66% — of Indianans support making weed legal.
Indianans, disproportionately Indianans of color, are enduring the effects of cannabis prohibition. According to an ACLU report, in 2018, Black people were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than whites
Indiana has no voter initiative process, so it’s up to the legislature to act.
In Iowa, first-offense possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. That’s one of the most severe first-offense penalties in the country.
These tragic penalties hit low-income families and communities of color the hardest. According to data compiled by the ACLU, Black Iowans are nearly eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Iowans. That’s the fifth highest racial disparity rate in the entire nation.
Iowans want reform, with 67% of residents supporting making marijuana legal. With no initiative process in the state, lawmakers should follow the will of their constituents.
First offense for possession of any amount of marijuana carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000 in Kansas.
Kansas’ pot laws disproportionately impact people of color. An ACLU report found that in 2018, Black people were 4.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than are white people in Kansas. That’s even though both consume it at about the same rates. In fact, Kansas ranks 12th in the nation for the largest racial disparity in cannabis possession arrests.
Kansas polls show 65% of people favor Cannabis legalization. The GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature isn’t listening.
First offense possession of up to eight ounces of marijuana carries a maximum penalty of 45 days’ imprisonment and up to a $250 fine in Kentucky.
There’s a huge disparity in who law enforcement targets and criminalizes in Kentucky for weed possession. Kentucky ranks second in the nation for the worst racial disparity in marijuana arrests. Black Kentuckians are 9.4 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than white Kentuckians.
Residents are ready for reform; 64% of Kentuckians support legalization. Kentucky lacks a ballot initiative process. So legislators either need to act directly or put a legislative referral on the ballot.
Although Oklahoma now has the biggest medical marijuana market in the country on a per capita basis, possession of adult-use Cannabis remains criminalized.
The state imprisons more people, per-capita, than just about any other state, many of them non-violent drug offenders sentenced to lengthy terms behind bars. And, as reported by the ACLU, Black people in Oklahoma are 4.2 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people.
Civiqs polling found 60% support for marijuana legalization in Oklahoma as of February 16, 2022.
Pennsylvania has a medical marijuana program. But the Keystone State imposes up to 30 days’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $500 for possession of up to 30 grams of non-medical Cannabis.
Police are three times more likely to arrest Black Pennsylvanians for marijuana possession than white people in the state.
Seventy percent of Pennsylvanians favor legalization.
In South Carolina, a first offense for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana carries a maximum penalty of 30 days’ imprisonment and a $200 fine (though pre-trial diversion is possible).
Pot arrests brand thousands of South Carolinians with criminal records for simple pot possession. Sadly, Black South Carolinians bear the brunt of these arrests. South Carolina cops are 3.5 times more likely to arrest Blacks for weed possession than their white counterparts.
Sixty-six percent of South Carolinians favor legal marijuana. The state has no ballot initiative process, so the legislature must take up pot policy reform.
South Dakota shouldn’t even be on this list. But here it is, and South Dakotans have Governor Kristi Noem at least partly to blame.
Ambitious Trumpist politician Noem didn’t like it when state voters legalized weed in 2020. So she formed an unholy alliance with law enforcement and put her finger on the scales of justice to stop it. No effort’s too great when it comes to blocking the will of the people, don’t you know.
As is the case in other states, enforcement disproportionately targets Black South Dakotans. In 2019, South Dakota law enforcement authorities were five times more likely to arrest Black individuals for cannabis possession than their white counterparts.
In the 2020 election, 54% of South Dakotans voted for legal marijuana.
Possession of any amount is a misdemeanor in Tennessee, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in prison and up to a $2,500 fine. Cultivation of 10 plants or less is a felony, punishable by one to six years in prison. Penalties increase significantly for each additional plant grown.
The ACLU found that in 2018 law enforcement arrested Black folks at 3.2 times the rate of white individuals in Tennessee. That’s even though both races consume weed at about the same rate.
Tennessee voters overwhelmingly support legalization; the latest poll showed 67% want legal marijuana. But Tennessee doesn’t have a voter initiative process. Only elected officials have the power to change state law.
In Texas, the second most populous state in the country, having two ounces or less of marijuana carries a maximum penalty of 180 days’ imprisonment and a $2,000 fine.
The cops do not enforce the pot laws equitably enforced in Texas. They arrest Black Texans at 2.6 times the rate of white people. Cops bust and incarcerate hundreds of Texans, a majority of whom are people of color, for weed possession. Texas consistently has the highest total number of pot possession arrests in the US.
Sixty-nine percent of Texans favor legal marijuana. There is no ballot initiative process in the state, so it is up to the Texas Legislature to act. A decriminalization bill passed the House in 2021 but died in the Senate.
The Legislature does not meet in 2022, and the powerful Republican lieutenant governor — Dan Patrick — has blocked progress on marijuana in the Senate.
Utah still punishes simple marijuana possession with jail time. Under current Utah law, possession of as little as an ounce or less of Cannabis can result in a six-month jail sentence.
Unfortunately, communities of color in Utah disproportionately face these harsh penalties. The ACLU found that cops are more than three times as likely to arrest Black Utahans for weed possession as their white neighbors.
Sixty-four percent of Utahans support making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older. Utah does have a ballot initiative process. Further pot policy reform could be citizen-initiated or ushered in through the Utah Legislature. However, the conservative Legislature has the authority to revise or replace any voter-enacted law with a simple majority vote.
First offense for possession of any amount of marijuana carries a mandatory minimum of 90 days’ imprisonment in West Virginia. There’s a conditional discharge for up to 15 grams with probation). A subsequent offense carries the same maximum penalty — up to six months — but with no conditional discharge.
These laws are some of the harshest in the nation, and their effect on West Virginians — disproportionately West Virginians of color — is evident. According to the ACLU, West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for the highest racial disparity in arrests for weed possession. Cops are 7.3 times more likely to arrest Black people in West Virginia for marijuana possession than white people.
West Virginians strongly support reform, with 68% in support of making marijuana legal. The state does not have a ballot initiative process. The only avenue for pot law reform is through the West Virginia Legislature. And in 2021, GOP Gov. Jim Justice said he would sign a legalization bill if lawmakers sent one to his desk.