Pubdate: Wed, 22 May 2013
Source: Alaska Dispatch (AK)
Copyright: 2013 Alaska Dispatch
Author: Harmandeep Singh Boparai


NEW YORK - Danielle Bradford was raised in state custody because of
her parent's abuse and drug dependencies.

When she was 18 she moved out, found work at a local waffle shop and
got her first apartment in Nashville, Tenn. Her estranged father
helped by co-signing on the lease.

One evening she was at home with her neighbors when three police
officers knocked on the door. They said they had received a report
that there was a portable meth lab on her property. "I allowed them to
look, and obviously they did not find anything," she said. What the
police did find was that her neighbor had some marijuana and a bowl
that she had prepared for him.

Two officers cornered her inside her room as three others continued
the search outside. Bradford was in tears, and a volley of questions

"Where's the drugs?"

"I know you know where the acid and ecstasy are!"

"Who makes the meth around here?" they demanded.

"At this point I was crying and very scared. I had been working almost
60 hours a week and I was trying to save up money to go to school. I
had never done anything ... besides smoke pot," she said.

The officer found a few grams of marijuana in a box beside her bed.
She said she was using it for pain management, along with Advil. "They
both laughed in my face and proceeded to tell me I was under arrest.
At this point I was in a full blown panic attack," she said. When she
went to her living room her neighbor was being arrested for simple
possession and possession of paraphernalia.

"The officers were looking through my pile of High Times magazine, I
had a collection ranging from the 1960s to 2000s. They were mocking
me, my home and my lifestyle. I was very angry," said Bradford.

That night four of her neighbors were arrested for possession. Three
days later she received a letter in the mail from her landlord
informing her that there was a zero tolerance clause in her lease, and
because of the paraphernalia and simple possession charge she was
subject to a three-day eviction notice. "So I was thrown out that day
with no notice," said Bradford.

She later found out that employees at the apartment office had called
the police, lying about the meth lab because they objected to
marijuana use. Next, her father found out about the reason for her
eviction. "We already had an extremely strained relationship, because
of the physical and mental abuse I had taken, but I was still willing
to try to have some form of a relationship. But he called me a 'piece
of shit druggie!' So I lost my home, job and father again," she said.

Draconian peccadilloes Bradford is one of the millions of Americans
who have been apprehended for marijuana related offenses, a number
that stands at 12 million arrests since the year 2000. Nearly half of
all drug-related arrests in the United States (approximately 52
percent) are connected to marijuana.

In 2011, there were more than 750,000 arrests for possession of
marijuana in the United States, one every 42 seconds. The overwhelming
majority, almost 90 percent, were for simple possession and not for
trafficking or sale, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report in
October 2012.

Numbers like these are staggering, but consider this: More than 30
million Americans - one-tenth of the population - used marijuana in
the past year. It is the most commonly used illicit drug, with 42
percent of American adults reporting that they have used it at some
time, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Nearly half
of all 12th graders in American schools have used the drug at least

Even less well understood by the general public is that these arrests
can have collateral consequences much larger than the time served.
Sanctions triggered by marijuana convictions can affect nearly every
sphere of a person's life. Professional licenses can be suspended and
one can face major hurdles in getting employment or promotion. Many
students lose financial aid and cannot continue their education. There
can be bars on adoption, and even on basic citizens' rights to things
such as voting and jury service.

For people who depend upon public assistance the consequences can be
more detrimental. A marijuana conviction can trigger a block on
receiving food stamps and restrict access to public housing. In some
states, these sanctions can drag on for life. The contact with the
criminal justice system itself can stigmatize a person, change the
course of their lives and ruin relationships, a cost that is hard to

"We are criminalizing a significant section of our society," said
Mason Tvert, who works with the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver,
Colo. "Marijuana use should be addressed by treatment and education,
not law enforcement," he added. The organization works to build public
support against punitive marijuana policies and also to change state
laws, aiming to liberalize both medical and non-medical use of
marijuana. Tvert maintained that marijuana prohibition was carried out
at great cost to taxpayers, with billions of dollars being spent on
enforcement and campaigns to vilify marijuana use, versus focusing on
more serious crimes.

Current legislation varies widely across states. Beginning with
California's legalization of medical marijuana in 1996, a total of 18
states and the District of Columbia allowed prescription use. Now with
Colorado and Washington legalizing personal possession and use of
small amounts of marijuana even recreationally, the debate to legalize
the drug in the country has picked up.

The impact of current policies starts at a young age and students who
have drug convictions are denied loans, grants and even work-study
jobs. Currently in 28 states, a student who is convicted of possessing
any amount of marijuana will be denied federal financial aid for a
year, and may also be denied state educational aid. More than 180,000
college students have been denied or delayed federal financial aid as
a result of a drug conviction, according to a report by the Coalition
for Higher Education Act Reform published in 2006.

"At the student level, nothing happens if you get a DWI [Driving While
Intoxicated] for alcohol in terms of federal funding, but if you are
found with marijuana, you cannot get the grant money to keep going,"
said David Holland, executive and legal director of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in New York.

Derailed Nathan Foutch of Peru, Ind., was an ardent Lance Armstrong
fan and a cyclist. As a high school senior in 1995, he was set to get
a scholarship for college, his ticket out of the small town. One night
in June of 1995 he was driving and pulled over to take a nap near an
old church. Later, a sheriff's deputy woke him and asked to search his
car. Foutch granted permission and after half an hour of searching the
officer started going through the empty cigarette packs on his back
seat, in one of which he found a small amount of marijuana.

He was arrested for possession, and ended up spending 30 days in jail,
sharing a 9 by 12 foot jail cell with three other inmates. His parents
eventually bailed him out, but he lost his scholarship and could not
get into college. He ended up doing a few small jobs instead and could
never get back on the track he had set for himself. "Things would've
been different if this hadn't happened when I was younger," he said.

Furthermore, a misdemeanor conviction stays on one's record, available
to the public for three years before it can be expunged, which can
have repercussions for both current and future employment.

In many states, any marijuana conviction, misdemeanor or felony, may
be considered by private or public employers as grounds for dismissal
or refusal to hire, regardless of how the person actually performs. In
Alabama for example, any felony marijuana conviction results in a
lifetime bar from any government employment. "Employers look at
marijuana use as a character flaw, rather than as youthful
indiscretion," said Holland, adding that the widespread attitude to
the substance was such that cannabis users were considered by many to
be the scourge of society.

Allen Roberts of Charlotte, N.C., then 17 years old, was at a park
with a group of neighborhood friends, for a summer festival. One
police officer approached the group and asked if they had been in the
playground, where someone had been seen smoking weed. Roberts asserted
that they were being antagonized, not realizing that some members of
the group had broken off and could have been smoking. "We are not that
stupid to do something like that in the park, especially near the
kids," Roberts retorted. Since he was the only one to speak up, the
officer singled him out. He was patted down and searched. The officer
found marijuana and Roberts was convicted for possession.

Despite the conviction, he worked on his dream of getting into the
military and got a waiver to enroll. He says he scored 97/100 in the
Naval entrance examination and was looking forward to getting into the
specialty of his choice, the Navy Electronics Program. However he got
another charge for possession, and was thrown out of the program. Ever
since that rejection, he worked multiple small jobs. Now 31, Roberts
is unemployed. "I have developed a mindset that I will never be able
to do right or I will never be accepted into society. I honestly feel
like an outcast," he said. "I can never get the opportunities I seek
because I have a criminal history filled with simple possession of
marijuana convictions."

A different approach

In spite of strict enforcement of prohibition, use of marijuana has
been growing over the years. More than 15 million Americans admit to
having used it in the past month. In fact marijuana is the most widely
used illegal drug in the world. The United Nations estimates that 160
million people use cannabis every year.

More tolerant policies for marijuana use are common in Europe, from
Russia to Italy to Belgium to Portugal, where anyone caught with small
amounts of illegal drugs are not charged with a crime, but reported to
local commissions to ensure that users seek treatment. Depenalization
goes a step further than this decriminalization, particularly the
Dutch policy of cannabis normalization, for which there is an official
"non-enforcement" policy.

Marijuana was once widely accepted in the United States, but the
Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made its use as an intoxicant illegal. At
that time its public image was associated with use within the
predominantly African-American jazz culture and by Mexican immigrants,
and movies like "Reefer Madness" further vilified the drug for the
white majority.

Even as policies became less friendly toward marijuana use, its actual
use kept growing. It became a part of the 1950s Beat culture and
spread more widely on college campuses over the next two decades, when
it was embraced by the hippie movement in the 1960s. By 1971, college
student use of marijuana had climbed to 51 percent.

Under the US President Richard Nixon, the Controlled Substances Act of
1970 classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a Schedule I
drug, stating that marijuana had a high abuse potential and no
accepted medical use. A commission constituted by Nixon under
Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer concluded that: "Neither the
marijuana user or the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger
to public safety. Therefore the commission recommends =C3=82=C2=85 posses
sion of
marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense."

Despite the commission's recognition that the drug was relatively
harmless, it never gained acceptance by the administration. The
anti-marijuana rhetoric during the era of US President Ronald Reagan
effectively stopped any chances of a liberalized policy. People across
the United States were arrested for possession, growing and
trafficking marijuana, pushing the total number of arrests since 1937
to 23 million.

Advocates for decriminalization point out that smoking marijuana is
substantially less toxic for the body than alcohol. The US Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 37,000
annual US deaths are attributed to alcohol use alone. Health-related
costs for alcohol consumers are eight times greater than those for
marijuana consumers. In comparison marijuana use is not associated
with overdose deaths or with an increased risk of cancer.

In comparison to the 750,000 marijuana possession arrests, in 2010
there were 2.6 million arrests related to alcohol use, including
public drunkenness, sales to minors, driving under the influence and
other violations of liquor laws.

Studies have repeatedly shown that alcohol, unlike marijuana,
contributes to the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior. The
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that
25-30 percent of violent crimes in the United States are linked to the
use of alcohol. Nonetheless the collateral sanctions for marijuana
possession are much more severe than for violation of alcohol laws.

In 38 states, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction, for personal
possession of marijuana as an example, can result in a ban on adopting
a child. In seven of these states, this ban can operate for life.

Justice served? As Melissa Masner of Clinton, N.Y., got her daughters
ready for school on a spring morning in April 2011, she opened the
door to see the drug task force with a warrant to search her house,
based on a tip that she was growing marijuana in her basement. "They
tore everything up, emptied my children's toy boxes, my garbage cans,
my video collections. They then took pictures to make it seem like I
lived like a scumbag. They ruined my house and I could do nothing as I
was handcuffed," she said.

Her 14-year-old son, who was sick and at home, was also handcuffed and
brought out of his bed. They found no plants, but they did find a
small amount of marijuana. "They charged me," she said, arguing in her
defense that the marijuana and paraphernalia were always kept away
from her children. After going to an outpatient rehabilitation center
for over a year and a half, she finally completed her mandated rehab.
"I honestly hope that no one ever has to go through what I have gone
through. I was a hardworking single mom, that did nothing wrong and
took care of my family," she said.

David Holland of NORML said that parents could lose custody of their
kids just because they smoked marijuana. Hundreds of New Yorkers for
example, who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana or who
have simply admitted to using it, have become entangled in civil child
neglect cases in recent years, according to city records. "People are
being called into question whether they are good parents or not simply
because they smoke marijuana, as opposed to people who openly drink
alcohol and get belligerent in front of their children," he said.

In 21 states, and the District of Columbia, a misdemeanor conviction
for personal possession of marijuana can also result in a driver's
license suspension for at least six months, whether or not the person
was operating a vehicle at the time of arrest. Stacey Kowalsky, 31,
was a passenger in a car in Ohio when they were pulled over in October

She was given a ticket for possession of marijuana and had to go to
court. She ended up losing her license for six months and paying a
fine. "I wasn't even driving!" she said, "I've never had a ticket or
accident and now I lose my license. I can drive to work and that is
all. No grocery shopping, no bill paying, nothing! I'm also now a drug

Racial bias The sharp increase in the number of marijuana arrests over
the last decade also brings to light a racial bias in enforcement.
Certain communities have been paying a disproportionately high price
for drug policies. In New York City, which has been called the
marijuana arrest capital of the world, of the 50,000 arrests made in
2011, 82 percent were black and Hispanic men, according to data
released by the New York governor's office.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) arrested blacks for marijuana
possession at seven times the rate of whites, and arrested Latinos at
nearly four times the rate of whites, even though studies have
consistently found that young whites use marijuana at a similar rate
or perhaps higher than young blacks and Latinos. The racial skew
raises some hard-to-answer questions, especially about bias in the
implementation of the city's "stop and frisk" policy, under which a
police officer can question and frisk any person they suspect.

"That's the consequence of how you fight the war on drugs," according
to Eduardo Padro, a New York State Supreme Court Justice talking about
why African-Americans and Latinos were targeted. In an interview, he
said that the drug dealers who were the perceived threat to peace,
tended to operate in poorer communities. Generally these communities
have many people of color, who ended up getting frisked. "I always
tell people that if you want to change the complexion of this court,
put the under-cover [police] in Wall Street, in college campuses and
prep schools," he added.

On a March morning in 2013, Judge Padro looked over his thin-rimmed
glasses at Everardo, 16, who was brought before his bench. Everardo
had been kicked out of his court-assigned program for smoking
marijuana, and the options were whether to put him on probation, or
worse, give him jail-time.

"Everardo, why did you smoke?" he asked, in a tone hinting at
exasperation. "It was because I was stressed," the 15-year-old replied
apprehensively. After the young boy told the judge of the family
problems that led to his stress and marijuana use, Padro decided not
to give him probation but rather to assign him to a drug program
instead. "I'm going to stick my neck out here for him and do this," he
said. He went back to the court and set another date to see Everardo

"I am torn," said Justice Padro about his views on legalizing
marijuana. "I think marijuana can be addictive. On the other hand do
we need to criminalize people because of it? I've got a problem with
that also."

For most people who get incarcerated for marijuana possession, it is
their first brush with the justice system. Out of the 50,000 people
arrested for marijuana in 2011, 71 percent had never been previously
convicted of any crime whatsoever. Another 11 percent had prior
convictions for misdemeanors. "Marijuana is driving our courts, quite
literally," said Michelle Smith, the principal law clerk working with
Justice Padro.

It now costs New York City at least $75 million a year to arrest and
jail people simply for possessing marijuana. A report by the Drug
Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project found that
the NYPD spent an astonishing one million hours of police officer time
making marijuana possession arrests over the last 11 years.

"Every hour they spend arresting people with marijuana the New York
police is off the streets. It is a huge waste of police resources,"
said David Long, a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
(LEAP), an organization made up of current and former members of law
enforcement and criminal justice system who speak out about the
failures of existing drug policies. LEAP believes that adult drug
abuse is a health problem that should be addressed in de-addiction
clinics and not a law-enforcement matter. Early in 2013 in an effort
to stem the arrests in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg
announced that those arrested for possessing small amounts of
marijuana would not have to spend a night in jail, but would be given
a ticket instead and have to appear in court.

Long, after serving for nearly nine years as a special agent with the
Racketeering Division of the US Department of Labor, maintained that
keeping marijuana illegal meant that the source of the drug would be
from countries like Mexico rather than domestic production. "Once
people want something, they will get it by illegal means. All
prohibition does it drive it underground," said Long.

According to LEAP, an enormous number of people have been misguidedly
incarcerated for completely non-violent "drug crimes." In 2006 for
example, the last year for which data is available, federal government
figures indicated there were more than 41,000 Americans in state or
federal prison on marijuana charges, some serving lengthy sentences
for marijuana trafficking.

Father behind bars In 1997 when Anthony Davila of San Antonio, Texas,
came home from school, he saw the Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA) enter the house and arrest his father for trafficking.

Then 10 years old, it was the last time Anthony saw his father, who
serves life without parole.

He was sentenced under the state's three strikes law, which punishes
repeat offenders more harshly, after two tractor trailers belonging to
him were caught smuggling marijuana across the Mexico-US border.

"You need your dad you know, when you are growing up. I used to think
it was my fault he got arrested, that I could've done something,"
Davila said reflecting on how his childhood had been fraught with
being frustrated and getting into trouble at school.

He still gets letters from his father every few months, the last being
in February of 2013, which read, "Hi amigo, I am proud of you. You're
doing real good at college. Keep up the good work. So you can have the
know-how to run a good business."

Another federal survey found that nearly 10 percent of former state
prison inmates had been sexually victimized the last time they were
incarcerated. Many more have to endure the violence and individual
assaults that are a serious problem in America's prisons.

Andrew Bastian, 26, has had five marijuana convictions since he was 18
and has served time. "I have been in the same jail cell as someone
being charged with capital murder," he said. The last time he was in
jail, a prisoner came up to him and forced him to hand over his food
tray. Bastian resisted, but the inmate wrenched the tray from his
hand, warning Bastian that he would be "dead on his back" if he
reported him. "I go to jail for marijuana and get my life threatened.
And now I am a criminal repeat offender because of prohibition,"
Bastian said.

While a Gallup Poll in October 2011 reported an all-time record level
of 50 percent Americans believing the use of marijuana should be made
legal, major hurdles remain to liberalize drug policy. Jeffrey A.
Miron, the director of undergraduate studies in the economics
department at Harvard University, said that one of the major lobbies
against legalization is law enforcement: local police and the DEA, for
whom marijuana arrests are a major source of revenue and in the
latter's case, a powerful raison d'etre.

Marijuana arrests cost taxpayers nearly $8 billion annually on arrest
and incarceration. Miron states that legalizing and taxing marijuana
would add a substantial amount of revenue to the government, about
$10-15 billion, coming both from savings on government expenditure on
enforcement of prohibition, as well as sales tax on the legalized
product. Also currently with prohibition, marijuana purchased through
criminal markets is not subject to the same quality control standards
that legal consumer goods are. "The people who want to use it have to
face more hassles, higher prices and poor quality, just as with any
commodity, whenever the government reduces the ability of people to
buy something in a free market it is reducing the welfare of those
people," Miron said.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Keith Humphreys,
professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford
University, and a former senior policy adviser at the White House
Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Humphreys argued legalization of marijuana would cause a public health
problem. "Big industry would step in and develop a more potent
product, eventually getting more people addicted to it and ending up
costing the government more due to the health costs than would be
earned by taxation," he said. Humphreys conceded that marijuana was
safer than alcohol or tobacco, but called for less harsh policing
rather than legalization.

Marijuana is also used by over a million Americans for medical
reasons, for conditions ranging from pain and glaucoma, to
supplementing treatment for AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other
diseases. In the late 1980s the Federal Drug Administration approved a
synthetic form of THC (the active compound of cannabis) to treat
severe weight loss associated with AIDS and nausea and vomiting
associated with chemotherapy, but it does not approve the use of
cannabis per se.

Despite the federal ban, The American Public Health Association,
American Nurses Association and the state medical societies of New
York, California and Rhode Island support legal access to medical
marijuana. Presently even with 18 states and the District of Columbia
legalizing medical use, federal laws treat all patients using medical
marijuana as criminals, and these states cannot prevent the federal
government from enforcing its own laws regarding medical marijuana
users and providers.

Chris Williams, who opened a marijuana growing operation in Montana
after the state legalized medical cannabis, was eventually arrested by
federal agents despite Montana's medical marijuana law. A jury found
Williams guilty of drug trafficking. During his trial Williams was not
allowed to mention the Montana law, since it was not deemed relevant
to his guilt under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which
recognizes no legitimate use for cannabis. Kari Boiter, a legislative
analyst and legalization advocate from Seattle followed Williams'
trial closely. "Everything we are doing at the state level is
completely worthless, until we get the federal government to sign a
law," she said.

In California before medical use was legalized, there were dozens of
known medical marijuana patients arrested in the 1990s, which in turn
is what prompted people to launch the medical marijuana initiative
there. Considering a total of nearly 18 million marijuana users
arrested since 1970, even if only 1 percent of those arrestees used
marijuana for medical purposes, this would amount to almost 170,000
patients arrested.

Danielle Bradford of Nashville, Tenn., after her arrest and eviction
eventually secured another job and moved to San Diego, Calif. While
there she was seen by a doctor for severe abdominal and back pain, and
was prescribed medical marijuana. When she moved back to Nashville,
where medical marijuana use remains illegal, she was hospitalized for
a panic attack.

Asked about the THC in her system, she explained that she was a
medical marijuana patient in California. "The doctor actually scoffed
at me and called it hippie medicine,'" Bradford said. "I was told that
marijuana was an awful drug that would 'ruin my life.'"

Regardless, she kept using it for relief with the other medication. A
couple of years passed without incident but one day the police was
called to her house for a domestic quarrel. Bradford's house was
searched and they found marijuana. "I explained that I was a medical
marijuana patient but they just laughed in my face. I was arrested; I
spent eight days in jail. I was so despondent I actually thought about
hurting myself. I had a job, a new place and a car. I was finally
achieving my goals. And now I'm in jail again," said Bradford.

Despite a bill to allow medical marijuana, it remains illegal in

Meanwhile in November 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first
two states to legalize sale and possession of marijuana, even for
recreational use. Adults aged 21 and older may now possess one ounce
for personal use. Both states regulated it similar to alcohol, with
DWI provisions similar to those against drunk driving. Colorado's law
also allows personal cultivation of up to six plants. Although both
laws allow for commercial distribution, licensing systems for the
manufacture and sale of marijuana are yet to be developed, and
marijuana "stores" not likely to open before 2014.

Considering these developments, US President Barack Obama said that
his administration would not go against users in the two states. "It
does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to
focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said
under state law that is legal," he said. "We've got bigger fish to

Many states are expected to follow the example of Colorado and
Washington, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. These include
Oregon, California, Nevada, Rhode Island, Maine, Alaska and Vermont,
all of which already allow medical use.

Although New York is not on the list of states likely to change policy
soon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed the issue of marijuana-related
arrests, stating that New York City arrested more people for marijuana
than any other city.

He also admitted that the arrests showed a racial bias, targeting
mainly young blacks and Latinos. "We are one New York, and as one New
York we will not tolerate discrimination," he said in his State of New
York address in January 2013. "These arrests stigmatize, they
criminalize, they create a permanent record. It's not fair, it's not
right, it must end, and it must end now."
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