Marijuana legalization does not keep everyone out of jail.
We have to remember that different states have different laws now. If you can cultivate cannabis at home, you might have the opportunity to transport plants around. However, we don’t really have clear laws on transportation.
I want to focus on Connecticut because it’s close to where I live in Massachusetts. We have a real disparity. Connecticut allows legal dispensaries to sell medical marijuana, even marijuana that has seeds in it. But if those seeds accidentally fall into your garden then that marijuana plant can end up putting you in a federal prison. Cultivation of marijuana is a felony in Connecticut and it can get you up to seven years in prison.
I work as an expert witness helping people who have been charged with home cultivation. They’re using cannabis for themselves, perhaps to medicate, and they’re not comfortable with dispensaries or their doctor. Sometimes their illness is not on the list of legal ailments that allow doctors to recommend cannabis.
These charges can classify people who are essentially law-abiding citizens into drug dealers. I get cases where we have a middle-aged person growing six plants in his yard. He has a couple jars of finished cannabis in his den and he might have a smoking pipe. From my perspective, I find these people have what I call a “closed loop of medical marijuana” when you produce the plant yourself. You dry, cure, and process the leftover plant until you consume it. You’re actually eliminating the potential for diverting it to other people. You are not spending money at the dispensary, but if you get caught by the police you can go to jail for a very long time.
This is a huge disparity in the law. Prosecutors need to understand that growing marijuana is not a drug factory. Growing marijuana does not imply intent to sell. Just like growing corn in your yard does not imply that you intend to sell that corn to someone.
How It’s Used Should Matter
There are also multiple uses and forms of ingestion for marijuana. If you see someone who has cannabis oil, perhaps they have a vape pen or two. You can have two or three vape pens that have different strains in them for different effects on the body. You might have a jar of cannabis oil that you use as a medicated cream for sore muscles.
But if you are law enforcement and uninformed about cannabis you might think, “They have all these products. Clearly, they intend to sell them. They’re growing their own marijuana, so they have a whole drug factory.” Being charged with maintaining a drug factory and intending to sell it are felonies that make for a huge tax burden on the state. You’re essentially taking somebody who’s doing something that’s quite harmless and putting them into the system. If you put them in jail, that state is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to keep them behind bars.
It’s my passion to educate prosecutors, law enforcement, and communities that there are far greater evils in the world besides someone growing their own cannabis at their home and producing products they use themselves or with family and even friends. It’s important that law enforcement understands that cannabis culture has existed in the shadows since the 1920s.
They don’t want to be filmed walking into a dispensary. I know many cannabis users who are lawyers, doctors, psychologists, and government workers. They’re comfortable with its medicinal effects, but they are not in a place where they can publicly go into a dispensary. These are perfect candidates for growing their own cannabis or getting it from friends and family.
If we continue to prosecute these people and send them to jail, it’s a huge burden on their families. It’s a huge burden on society and it’s not actually doing much to keep cannabis off the street when you can go to the dispensary and buy it. The dispensaries have no control over what happens to the cannabis once it leaves their building. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and legislatures really have to understand that it’s more complex than just saying, “We’re going to legalize medical marijuana but not legalize cultivation. You can grow six plants, but if people are caught with eight plants they can go to jail.”
These problems must be solved, and if we can have more informed cannabis consultants at every level of society then I think we can separate the drug dealers trying to harm our communities from the people just trying to get a good night’s sleep. If prosecutors know this I think they can make more discerning decisions about who should go to jail and who shouldn’t.