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American lives derailed by laws against cannabis possession.
NEW YORK — Danielle Bradford was raised in state custody because of her parent’s abuse and drug dependencies.
When she was 18 she moved out, found work at a local waffle shop and got her first apartment in Nashville, Tenn. Her estranged father helped by co-signing on the lease.
One evening she was at home with her neighbors when three police officers knocked on the door. They said they had received a report that there was a portable meth lab on her property. “I allowed them to look, and obviously they did not find anything,” she said. What the police did find was that her neighbor had some marijuana and a bowl that she had prepared for him.
Two officers cornered her inside her room as three others continued the search outside. Bradford was in tears, and a volley of questions followed.
"Where's the drugs?"
"I know you know where the acid and ecstasy are!"
"Who makes the meth around here?" they demanded.
“At this point I was crying and very scared. I had been working almost 60 hours a week and I was trying to save up money to go to school. I had never done anything ... besides smoke pot,” she said.
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The officer found a few grams of marijuana in a box beside her bed. She said she was using it for pain management, along with Advil. “They both laughed in my face and proceeded to tell me I was under arrest. At this point I was in a full blown panic attack,” she said. When she went to her living room her neighbor was being arrested for simple possession and possession of paraphernalia.
“The officers were looking through my pile of High Times magazine, I had a collection ranging from the 1960s to 2000s. They were mocking me, my home and my lifestyle. I was very angry,” said Bradford.
That night four of her neighbors were arrested for possession. Three days later she received a letter in the mail from her landlord informing her that there was a zero tolerance clause in her lease, and because of the paraphernalia and simple possession charge she was subject to a three-day eviction notice. “So I was thrown out that day with no notice,” said Bradford.
She later found out that employees at the apartment office had called the police, lying about the meth lab because they objected to marijuana use. Next, her father found out about the reason for her eviction. “We already had an extremely strained relationship, because of the physical and mental abuse I had taken, but I was still willing to try to have some form of a relationship. But he called me a ‘piece of shit druggie!’ So I lost my home, job and father again,” she said.
Bradford is one of the millions of Americans who have been apprehended for marijuana related offenses, a number that stands at 12 million arrests since the year 2000. Nearly half of all drug-related arrests in the United States (approximately 52 percent) are connected to marijuana.
In 2011, there were more than 750,000 arrests for possession of marijuana in the United States, one every 42 seconds. The overwhelming majority, almost 90 percent, were for simple possession and not for trafficking or sale, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report in October 2012.
Numbers like these are staggering, but consider this: More than 30 million Americans — one-tenth of the population — used marijuana in the past year. It is the most commonly used illicit drug, with 42 percent of American adults reporting that they have used it at some time, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Nearly half of all 12th graders in American schools have used the drug at least once.
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Even less well understood by the general public is that these arrests can have collateral consequences much larger than the time served. Sanctions triggered by marijuana convictions can affect nearly every sphere of a person’s life. Professional licenses can be suspended and one can face major hurdles in getting employment or promotion. Many students lose financial aid and cannot continue their education. There can be bars on adoption, and even on