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Pot Conviction In Del. Can Mean Hard Times


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The consequences of a marijuana conviction in Delaware are the second-harshest in the nation, according to a Washington organization working to legalize the drug.

While sentences in Delaware associated with such convictions may not be as severe as those in other states, a study released today by the Marijuana Policy Project said the overall consequences that follow a marijuana conviction push up the state's ranking.

In fact, the study said, some people convicted of a marijuana offense are punished more harshly than they would have been for committing a violent crime.

"You could be convicted of a robbery and walk away with fewer collateral sanctions than if you were convicted of growing one marijuana plant in your backyard," said Richard Glen Boire, a California attorney and author of the report.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a person convicted of a marijuana offense in Delaware would lose state educational aid, something that doesn't occur with all violent crimes.

"I don't deny that the law has made use of marijuana illegal," Boire said. "But the question is whether the punishment is proportionate to the offense."

The report ranked Delaware behind Florida and ahead of Alabama, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

States considered most lenient with collateral sanctions are Maine, Missouri, Rhode Island, New York and New Mexico, with New Mexico having the lightest sanctions.

Pennsylvania was considered a moderate state, while Maryland was a step below the severe level assigned to Delaware and New Jersey.

State Attorney General's Office spokesman Jason Miller said agency officials had not yet reviewed the report and could not comment on it.

But, Miller said, any review of Delaware law should take into account that "first-time possession of marijuana offenders can choose to receive treatment through diversion programs and thereby avoid prison sentences and most of the legal disabilities that occur when there is a conviction."

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, according to the federal Office of Drug Control Policy, with an estimated 97.5 million U.S. residents 12 or older -- about 40 percent of that age group overall -- having tried it at least once.

The federal government says the drug has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted use in medical treatment in the United States.

Abuse of marijuana is associated with impaired memory, frequent colds, a higher heart rate and other health problems, the drug control office said.

Over the past 20 years, Boire said, legislators have imposed a variety of sanctions on people convicted of marijuana-related crimes. The restrictions tend to be more severe and of longer duration than the sentences handed down by judges, he said.

For example, it is not unusual for even a misdemeanor conviction for possession of marijuana to result in prohibitions on educational aid, becoming a foster parent and federal housing assistance. Convictions also may lead to revocation or suspension of occupational licenses and driver's licenses.

A felony conviction for growing marijuana can lead to all of those sanctions as well as a prohibition on adoption, a lifetime prohibition from receiving food stamps and the loss of the right to vote, serve on a jury or have a firearm.

Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the report's goal is to prompt people to talk about the laws and what can be done about them.

Many of the laws are a "feel-good" way of getting tough on drugs, he said, but people often don't realize what kinds of obstacles the laws create and how long they last.

"People don't stop to think what the consequences are," Mirken said. "It's time to have that conversation."

newshawk: drboomhauer - 420magazine.com
source: The News Journal
author: Estaban Parra
Contact: eparra@delawareonline.com.
Copyright 2007, The News Journal.
website: delawareonline ¦ The News Journal, Wilmington, Del. ¦ Pot conviction in Del. can mean hard times
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