Different U.S. Marijuana Laws: Legal vs. Life Sentence


Texas and Washington State both have hundreds of miles of coast line and no income tax. However, when it comes to marijuana laws, the two states couldn't be more different. In my home state of Washington, citizens are reaping many benefits as a result of marijuana legalization, from economic revitalization to increased personal freedom. But while marijuana laws are making a positive impact on our lives here, they're ruining lives in Texas and other parts of the country.

Take, for example, Jacob Lavoro. The 19-year-old former high school football player has an otherwise clean record, but after being caught baking and selling pot brownies in Round Rock, Texas, he was charged with first-degree felony--in other words, he could have been facing anywhere from 5 years to life in prison.

"If this was just some college kid experimenting in his friend's Easy-Bake Oven, with a reefer's worth of pot and a bunch of brownies, that'd be different," First District Attorney Mark Brunner told the Associated Press."This man was trying to run a business, allegedly."

As a state-licensed processor of cannabis-infused edibles who actually is running a business here in Washington, the news of Lavoro's case was an alarming reality check. Now that marijuana is legal in my state, it's hard to imagine that it's still cause for such harsh punishment elsewhere. But this is a reminder that, as a country, we still have a long way to go.

According to USA Today, Lavoro's charge has been reduced to a second-degree felony. But that charge still carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, in addition to a possession charge that carries a penalty of up to two years in state jail. Regardless of severity, the fact that the same plant we're building a multimillion dollar industry around in Washington continues to have such life-altering consequences for people in other parts of America is sobering to say the least.

Those consequences vary dramatically depending on geographic location. What is embraced in certain states as a non-addictive plant with a wealth of health benefits is vilified in others as the scourge of Western civilization. The latter sort of outdated thinking extends to the federal government, which still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, along with highly addictive and oft-fatal substances like heroin and crack.

But in January of this year, President Obama stated that he believes marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, going on to decry the racial disparities that often figure into marijuana-related arrests. For a sitting U.S. president to proclaim marijuana to be on par with alcohol, a recreational substance firmly ingrained in American society, was no small gesture.

A few months later, The New York Times made an even bolder and similarly groundbreaking statement with their week long editorial series advocating national marijuana legalization. Reader reaction was swift--and positive. Of the more than 15,000 comments published online, 12,658 were in favor of legalization, 982 were against, and 254 were unsure. That's not a consensus; it's a landslide. And while the Office of National Drug Control Policy responded with a brief, murky statement reasserting the Obama administration's opposition to legalization, the president's prior statement on marijuana would seem to suggest that the Commander in Chief himself is now publicly leaning toward the majority.

In my opinion, it's only a matter of time before the scales tip, and outrageous charges like the ones being brought against Jacob Lavoro will give way to a more pragmatic, accepting, and joyful society. Until then, I'm grateful to live in a state that is leading the way forward.