Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation, House Bill 1441, into law that criminalizes drivers from operating a motor vehicle if they have any detectable amount of THC and/or its inactive metabolites in their blood, saliva, or urine. Under such internal possession statutes, known as zero tolerance per se laws, a motorist who tests positive for the presence of such compounds is guilty per se (in fact) of a criminal traffic safety violation, regardless of whether or not there exist supporting evidence that the defendant was behaviorally impaired by such compounds.
Residual, low levels of THC may remain present in the blood of occasional consumers for several hours after past use and for several days in habitual consumers — long after any behavior-inducing effects of the substance have worn off. The inert carboxy-THC metabolite, a commonly screened for byproduct of THC, possesses a longer half-life in blood and also may be present in the urine of daily cannabis consumers for several weeks, or even months, after past use.
Oklahoma will become the 11th state to impose such a strict liability per se standard once the law takes effect on October 1, 2013. It is the third state this year to amend its traffic safety laws to include either per se thresholds or presumptive limits for cannabinoids.
Ten additional states – Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin – already impose zero tolerance per se thresholds for the presence of cannabinoids and/or their metabolites.
Five states impose non-zero-tolerant per se thresholds for cannabinoids in blood: Montana (5ng/ml — the new law, HB 168, signed in April, takes effect on October 1, 2013), Pennsylvania (1ng/ml), Ohio (2ng/ml), Nevada (2ng/ml) and Washington (5ng/ml).
Last month, Colorado lawmakers also approved legislation, effective as of July 1, 2013, stating that the presence of THC/blood levels above 5ng/ml “gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.”
However, according to the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA): “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects. … It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”
In addition, a 2013 academic review of per se drugged driving laws and their impact on road safety found “no evidence that per se drugged driving laws reduce traffic fatalities.”
Patricia Spottedcrow, an Oklahoma woman who was sentenced to 12 years for selling $31 worth of pot, with no prior convictions, was released from prison yesterday (Thursday, November 29th), after serving almost two years of her twelve-year sentence.
Her case received significant coverage after the story was featured in 2011 Tulsa World series on why Oklahoma ranks number one for sending more women to prison per capita, than any other state. Grassroots organizers then rallied together to bring attention to this egregious example of our overzealous sentencing for marijuana-related crimes. It worked, outrage spread far and wide.
After several targeted campaigns to local law enforcement and elected officials, as well as an especially strong grassroots effort spearheaded by outraged mothers and reformers, the lobbying paid off. Officials decided to reconsider her twelve-year sentence.
In July of this year, upon the unanimous recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Board, Gov. Fallin agreed to approve her parole, contingent upon her completion of the community service part of her sentence. Today, Spottedcrow is a free woman that has since been reunited with her family and her three small children.
After spending over two years in prison, Patricia Spottedcrow greets her children when they get home from school. from Tulsa World on Vimeo. (Try this too: http://vimeo.com/54579830#at=0)
The NORML Women’s Alliance was deeply involved with this effort, as well as providing personal support to Patricia Spottedcrow through a formal letter writing campaign. She received an outpouring of support and sent the Alliance a personal thank you letter.
“This is an inspirational reminder that justice still exists. It proves that with cooperation and determination, grassroots efforts truly can make a significant difference in people’s lives,” said Sabrina Fendrick, Founder and Director of the NORML Women’s Alliance.
“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history” -Gandhi
Patricia Spottedcrow, a mother and first time offender from Oklahoma, was originally sentenced to 12 years behind bars for selling $30 worth of marijuana. For months, the NORML Women’s Alliance, and other organizations have been bringing attention to one of the most egregious cases of the war on drugs in recent history. After several outreach campaigns to local law enforcement and elected officials, and especially a strong grassroots effort spearheading my outraged mothers and reformers alike, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board have recommended early parole for Spottedcrow. While this is a small victory in the battle against marijuana prohibition, it is significant in showing that grassroots efforts trult can make a significant difference in the lives of those adversely impacted by the government’s war on drugs.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Grassroots support may evolve into early parole for a Kingfisher mother who was handed a strict prison sentence for a first-time offense of selling $31 worth of marijuana.
After her story was published in the Tulsa World’s series on Women in Prison in 2011, a groundswell of support emerged. In October, a Kingfisher County judge reduced her sentence by four years.
Spottedcrow’s advocates expressed concern for possible racial bias, disparate sentences for drug crimes, Oklahoma’s No. 1 female incarceration rate per capita and the effects on children growing up with incarcerated parents.
Because children were in Spottedcrow’s home when she was arrested, a charge of possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor was added. Her mother, Delita Starr, was also charged with the crime but was given a 30-year suspended sentence so she could care for Spottedcrow’s four children while their mother was incarcerated.
Board member Marc Dreyer, senior pastor at Tulsa’s Memorial Baptist Church, was instrumental in getting Spottedcrow’s case early consideration.
He said he requested to meet Spottedcrow while visiting Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft a few months ago, after reading about her case in the Tulsa World.
“Based on quantity of drugs involved and the desperation of her situation at the time, it was my view that she ought to have consideration by the board for parole, as there were some extenuating circumstances,” Dreyer said. He requested that her case be moved to the board’s April hearing.
Click here for more information.
The NORML Women’s Alliance would like to thank everyone who took the time to make their voice heard against this injustice. Together, we will prevail. Support the NORML Women’s Alliance with a donation by clicking the link below:
Several studies suggest a prisoner’s mental health is dependent on their contact with the outside world. For many, mail correspondences are their primary contact with the public.
Many of the women incarcerated for marijuana offenses are isolated and alone. Receiving any outside communication from the public can be the highlight of their week or month. These small gestures let them know that they are not forgotten, and that the NORML Women’s Alliance is here to support and comfort them.
Recently, the NWA and Freedom Is Green collected letters for Patricia Spotted Crow, a first time offender from Oklahoma who was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for selling $30 worth of marijuana. Here is her heartfelt response to this small gesture from the outside world:
Want to write a marijuana prisoner?
Beth Mann of Freedom is Green provides some guidelines for individuals who are interested in writing to women (and men) that are in prison for marijuana-related crimes: “What should you write? Anything. Prisoners benefit from seemingly mundane letters about your daily life to words of inspiration to pieces of creative writing to news or current events. The important part is simply reaching out.”
[Note: We are focusing on one prisoner at a time. Right now we are sending letters to Patricia Spotted Crow. Please send a letter appropriate for her. Soon we will focus on other prisoners.]
Please keep in mind that all of the prisoner’s mail is read by authorities.
- Please send text only, no images or attachments
- Put the prisoner’s name in subject line of email
- Send separate emails for each prisoner
- Up to 1,000 words per letter
- By sending a letter through freedomisgreen.com we may contact you and ask that your letter be posted on the site to bring awareness to victims of prohibition. You may decline and we will still forward your letter directly to the prisoner.
- Send your emails to email@example.com
Police prosecute over 850,000 Americans annually for violating state marijuana laws. The penalties for those busted and convicted vary greatly, ranging from the imposition of small fines to license revocation to potential incarceration. But for the citizens arrested in these five states, the ramifications of even a minor pot bust are likely to be exceptionally severe.
Alternet.org’s editors recently asked me to compile a list of ‘the worst of the worst’ states to be busted for personal pot possession. Without further ado, here they are:
The 5 Worst States to Get Busted With Pot
1. Oklahoma — Lawmakers in the Sooner State made headlines this spring when legislators voted 119 to 20 in favor of House Bill 1798, which enhances the state sentencing guidelines for hash manufacturing to a minimum of two years in jail and a maximum penalty of life in prison. (Mary Fallin, the state’s first-ever female governor, signed the measure into law in April; it takes effect on November 1, 2011.) But longtime Oklahoma observers were hardly surprised at lawmakers’ latest “life for pot” plan. After all, state law already allows judges to hand out life sentences for those convicted of cannabis cultivation or for the sale of a single dime-bag.
2. Texas — On an annual basis, no state arrests and criminally prosecutes more of its citizens for pot than does Texas. Marijuana arrests comprise over half of all annual arrests in the Lone Star State. It is easy to see why. In 2009, more than 97 percent of all Texas marijuana arrests — over 77,000 people — were for possession only. Those convicted face up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine, even upon a first conviction.
3. Florida — According to a 2009 state-by-state analysis by researcher and former NORML Director Jon Gettman, no other state routinely punishes minor marijuana more severely than does the Sunshine State. Under Florida law, marijuana possession of 20 grams or less (about two-thirds of an ounce) is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one-year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Marijuana possession over 20 grams, as well as the cultivation of even a single pot plant, are defined by law as felony offenses – punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. In recent years, state lawmakers have revisited the state’s marijuana penalties – in each case electing to enhance Florida’s already toughest-in-the-nation criminal punishments.
4. Louisiana — In Louisiana, multi-decade (or even life) sentences for repeat pot offenders are hardly a rare occurrence. Under Louisiana law, a second pot possession conviction is classified as a felony offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. Three-time offenders face up to 20 years in prison. According to a 2008 expose published in New Orleans City Business online, district attorneys are not hesitant to “target small-time marijuana users, sometimes caught with less than a gram of pot, and threaten them with lengthy prison sentences.”
5. Arizona — Forty years ago virtually every state in the nation defined marijuana possession as a felony offense. Today, only one state, Arizona, treats first-time pot possession in such an archaic and punitive manner. Under Arizona law, even minor marijuana possession offenses may be prosecuted as felony crimes, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $150,000 fine. According to Jon Gettman’s 2009 analysis only Florida consistently treats minor marijuana possession cases more severely.
For a comprehensive breakdown of state-by-state marijuana penalties, visit NORML’s online map here. To get active in changing the laws of your state, visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here, sign up for free NORML news and legislative alerts, get involved with your local NORML chapter (or start your own chapter here), and join national NORML.
Get active; get NORML!