Getting Busted for Pot Can Cost Your Right to Vote

Getting Busted for Pot Can Cost Your Right to Vote
Posted by CN Staff on July 31, 2007 at 06:28:31 PT
By Silja J.A. Talvi, In These Times
Source: AlterNet 
USA -- Once you've been arrested for the harsh anti-marijuana laws on the books, you can be denied everything from food stamps to voting rights to the right to adopt a child.  When a person is sent to prison for the first time on a drug-related felony charge, there is little chance that he or she will be told about the "collateral consequences" of their sentence.
The severity of these residual punishments depends on the state. "Life Sentences: The Collateral Sanctions Associated with Marijuana Offenses," a report released in July by the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE), ranks Florida, Delaware, Alabama, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, Utah, Arizona and South Carolina as the 10 states with the worst records for continuing the punishments of people who have already served their time."Life Sentences" author Richard Boire writes that the long-term sanctions for drug crimes, even for relatively benign drugs like marijuana, can exceed those of violent crimes like premeditated assault, rape and murder. Intense criminalization of drugs began with the Nixon administration, which ignored its own appointed "marihuana" commission's recommendation that legalization for personal use was a logical alternative to costly and ineffective criminalization. The drug war intensified during the Reagan era and has since grown worse: Today, fully 45 percent of 1.5 million annual drug arrests are related to marijuana.Up until the early '90s, people who smoked pot were rarely arrested in large numbers. If sentenced, most users and small-time dealers did not face long sentences. That has changed. According to the Washington D.C.-based Sentencing Project, marijuana-related arrests jumped up by 113 percent from 1990 to 2002, while overall drug arrests only increased by three percent during that time. Meanwhile, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has linked smoking weed to everything from teen violence to terrorism."ONDCP's crusade seems to get more incoherent and detached from reality every day," says Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "One minute they say marijuana makes you an apathetic slug, the next they say it turns you into a violent gangbanger. Neither has the remotest connection with reality, and these latest claims of a link between marijuana and violence are based on shameless manipulation of statistics taken completely out of context."Government-funded propaganda has been disseminated everywhere, from ads in some progressive magazines, to press releases regurgitated as "news" on cable stations like FOX News, to websites such as, which recently posted an ONDCP article, "Early Marijuana Use an Early Warning Sign for Gang Involvement." For all of its hoopla about the consequences of drug use, the ONDCP hasn't shown an interest in documenting the problems faced by those convicted of felony drug charges after release.Job applicants must inform potential employers, upon request, of past felonies, no matter how long ago they happened. The resulting job discrimination pushes many former prisoners back into the underground economy, contributing to the fact that two-thirds of former prisoners recidivate.Former drug-related offenders have been further punished by stipulations signed into law in 1996, without congressional or public debate, as a part of the Welfare Reform Act. Former convicts can now be denied public housing, food stamps, Temporary Aid for Needy Families and scholarships for higher education. Other limits on freedoms include the denial of vocational licensing and certification for some professions, voting rights, suspension of driver's licenses -- regardless of whether the offense had anything to do with an automobile -- and lifetime bans on the adoption of a child.Equally serious is that incarcerated men and women, especially those who do not have the physical size or prowess to fight off predators, can be extorted, bullied, beaten, molested or raped by guards and fellow inmates. "Stories from Inside: Prison Rape and the War on Drugs," a study released earlier this year by Los Angeles-based Stop Prisoner Rape, estimates that as many as one in four female and one in five male prisoners experience sexual violence while incarcerated. The real numbers are likely to be higher because of underreporting related to fear of repercussion or stigma."While anyone can be a victim of prisoner rape," the report states, "inmates convicted of a non-violent drug offense typically possess characteristics that put them at great risk for abuse. They tend to be young, unschooled in the ways of prison life, and lacking the street smarts necessary to protect themselves from other detainees."Silja J.A. Talvi is a senior editor at In These Times, an investigative journalist and essayist with credits in many dozens of newspapers and magazines nationwide, including The Nation, Salon, Santa Fe Reporter, Utne, and the Christian Science Monitor. She is at work on a book about women in prison (Seal Press/Avalon/Perseus).Source: AlterNet (US)Author:  Silja J.A. Talvi, In These TimesPublished: July 31, 2007Copyright: 2007 Independent Media InstituteContact: letters Website: -- Cannabis Archives
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #10 posted by FoM on July 31, 2007 at 21:34:49 PT
I know a couple of people who can't vote and I think it's wrong. How can people change laws who've experienced being on the end of one of those laws if they can't vote when they've done their time? What does double jeopardy mean? They don't want people to vote who could help change bad policy.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #9 posted by whig on July 31, 2007 at 21:20:02 PT
I think you're right. Voting is an inalienable right of citizenship. If you can take away someone's vote by charging them with a crime that shouldn't be a crime at all, then you can prevent them from changing the laws because you've taken away their vote.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #8 posted by NikoKun on July 31, 2007 at 14:09:01 PT
No one
No one should be denied the right to vote, as long as they are a citizen in this country... I don't care if you've killed someone or if you're wanted for federal crimes...
What is the difference whether they vote or not? It's not like their numbers are great enough to do any damage.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #7 posted by FoM on July 31, 2007 at 12:00:38 PT
I hope that in 2 years if the Dems get more voted in so a majority won't be hard to achieve and we get a good Dem as President if the laws aren't radically changed I will quit hoping. I will say it's too late and move on to something else that is important and needs activists to help.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #6 posted by whig on July 31, 2007 at 11:46:42 PT
You may be right. Whether the present government truly falls or simply deposes is still an open question. Deposition is better because it means less chaos.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #5 posted by goneposthole on July 31, 2007 at 11:43:03 PT
Does this mean...
that if I get busted for cannabis, I can't write in Mickey Mouse for President?He'd make a better president than the one that is in the White House at the present moment.Or... what good does it do to vote?Help your friends, help your neighbors, don't use drugs, smoke cannabis.Fortunately, the US government is close to dead and nobody is going to resuscitate the beast. Nobody cares if the US government doesn't make it in the intensive care unit. The US gov has spent money like there is no tomorrow, now it's all gone. That's just too bad. That's how kakistocracies end. America will live on.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #4 posted by JPeterman on July 31, 2007 at 10:48:16 PT:
What's Next?
What's next - armbands or tatooed numbers for marijuana users to wear so that straights, alcoholics, cigarette smokers, and prescription drug abusers can look down at them or throw them into concentration camps?Naa...too obvious. Let's just take away all their constitutional rights and freedoms....and how come our president, convicted of DUI and an acknowledged past cocaine and booze abuser, can not only vote but hold the highest office in our country?Can you say double standard? Thought you could!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #3 posted by museman on July 31, 2007 at 10:31:06 PT
a kinder, gentler America
That was part of G. Bush Sr.'s platform in 1992. When he said that, for some reason I thought he was talking about herb, and the draconian penal system.Yes it can be perpetual misery for those poor folks with families who find themselves sharing a cell with bozo the hump-backed gangsta over the posession of an illegal smile.The only jobs they can get when they get out are entry-level drudge work, that anyone with a mind inside their skull (-and cannabis users usually do have some intelligence, which is why they chose the herb instead of the alcohol poison, or crack cocaine, or meth-amphetamine-) just cannot endure for very long.In the (western) country, the problem is not quite so bad, because country folks tend to be much less uptight per-capita than city folks, so one is more likely to find someone who will employ you who doesn't really care about your 'marijuana' use. They probably would shy away from former crack use, or other actual dangerous drugs, but most people who walk on the earth quite often in their daily routine(not the patches of dead ground between the concrete and asphalt) do not subscribe to the obvious ignorance of the government concerning plant usage.The laws concerning your rights after the bust and conviction are unconstitutional right across the board, because they vary drasticly from state to state. Since it is primarily a Federal Law, the constitutional edict of "equal protection under the law (constitution)" should come into play. If you can walk in Oregon with an infraction and a fine, then according to the US Constitution, that same treatment should be expected and under rendered in those ten states mentioned. I find it a perfect example of how the rich-white-dominant-society can twist the truth, the law, and common sense in any direction it pleases.If the feds don't recognize state law as taking precedent over federal law, then there should be federal implementation of "equal protection." The states therefore should not have the right to deteremine their own application of punative measures. Hypocrisy, ignorance, propagagnda, and lucrative funding for cops and robbers.If cannabis remains illegal within 2 years after this next election, nobody better try to tell me about any parts of this government that are worth more than dust and ashes, because cannabis prohibition is the lynchpin of fascism. It is the apex of liberty, and if this God-Given miracle herb continues to be denied, criminalized, and villified, then there will be proof positive that our government is composed of nothing but demons, predators, and deviants (as if there wasn't enough proof already).Then maybe people will start realizing that as long as we continue to give them the power, crediibility, and resources to control all out lives, by playing their political, and economic game, and wrongly investing trust, faith, and belief in these criminals with suits, freedom is just a myth, and an beautiful sounding excuse for world domination.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by FoM on July 31, 2007 at 08:54:49 PT
I'm sorry. If I was able to make it right I would. This is not what I believed our country was to become. I don't see our country thru rose colored glasses anymore.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by ripit on July 31, 2007 at 08:46:43 PT
they tell me i got lucky because i got a withheld judgement.but i still can't vote untill i'm off probation.i can't use the one medicine that i know of that truly helps reduce my pain without making me sick to my stomach or constipated not to mention sleepy and weak all day! i have never been so ashamed of being an american as i am right now.arn't there laws against cruel an unusual punishment in this country? my god its just a plant!
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment