4/20, Not Funny: 7 States With the Harshest Marijuana Laws

Shani Saxon

It’s generally understood that cannabis culture advocates feel free to step out of the weeds on 4/20 in honor of their favorite plant.

It’s a day when smokers can rise up across the nation, spiritually link arms and collectively inhale. And why not? Although it’s still illegal on a federal level, there are plenty of marijuana policy advances on the state and local level that deserve to be acknowledged with a celebratory joint—and maybe little shimmy if you’re up to it.

That being said, as smokers party and chill this April 20, It’s also important to remember the immense amount of work that still needs to be done.

Even as the legal marijuana industry is poised for major growth, the racially-biased criminalization of weed continues to have a huge impact on mass incarceration. According to The Drug Policy Alliance, 46.9% of people arrested for drug law violations are Black or Latinx, even though they make up only 31.5% of the U.S. population.

Additionally, over 90% of the people charged with marijuana violations are arrested for possession only. That fact is especially harrowing for cannabis enthusiasts living in states with some of America’s harshest marijuana laws.

Here is a roundup of 7 places you’re better off avoiding this 4/20. And if you happen to live in one of these states, it might be worth your while to take a road trip to the closest cannabis-friendly community. Consider yourself warned!

State: Wisconsin

Possession: Any amount

Punishment: The first offense is considered a misdemeanor, but can still jam you up with six months of jail time and a $1,000 fine. Any subsequent offenses are considered class one felonies and punishable by up to 3.5 years behind bars and $10,000 in fines.

Although State rep Melissa Sargent reintroduced legislation to fully legalize marijuana in Wisconsin on April 18, and 60 percent of residents support the measure, the state’s current laws are severe.

State: Virginia

Possession: Less than one half ounce

Punishment: First offense can lead to up to 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. Any subsequent offenses can land you a year of jail time and/or a $2,500 fine.

In January 2019, Virginia Democratic Del. Stephen Heretick tried and failed to get legislation passed that would have legalized and decriminalized marijuana in his state.

“It’s a sad day for Virginia. Today the House Courts of Justice Committee defeated both my marijuana legalization and decriminalization bills. This is just the beginning of the fight,” Heretick said in a statement.

State: Texas

Possession: 2 ounces or less

Punishment: 180 days in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. However, holding between 4 ounces and 5 pounds is a felony punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days, and a max of two years. You could also face a fine of up to $10,000.

According to the Texas Tribune, roughly 379,000 Texans have been arrested for possessing 2 ounces or less of weed in the last five years.

Although political conservatives in the area “fear decriminalizing marijuana will increase crime rates and eventually lead to the legalization of other drugs,” there are lawmakers trying to loosen regulations. Public support for decriminalizing weed is swelling in Texas, but they have a long fight ahead.

State: Georgia

Possession: 1 ounce or less, More than 1 ounce

Punishment: Less than an ounce can land you one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. More than that is a felony that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

On April 18, Gov. Kemp signed a bill that officially made it legal for medical marijuana patients to access cannabis oil. The bill allows for "production, manufacturing, and dispensing" as well as the possession of low-THC cannabis oil in Georgia.”

State: Arizona

Possession: Less than 2 pounds

Punishment: This is a felony punishable by up to 2 years in jail and/or a $150,000 fine. You could be sentenced to almost four years in jail if you’re caught with more than 4 pounds.

Recreational lovers of weed really need to be careful in this place.

According to Wikileaf, “Only medical marijuana cardholders can legally toke up in [Arizona], though it must be done privately. Smoking in public places is always prohibited.”

State: Florida

Possession: 20 grams or less

Punishment: Up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Any amount more than that is a felony punishable by as much as five years for holding up to 25 pounds of weed.

Medical marijuana wasn’t even legal in this state until Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 186 into law in March 2019. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a new “cannabis czar” has been appointed to assist in building a regulated medical marijuana market.

State: Idaho

Possession: 3 ounces-less than 1 pound

Punishment: This is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine.

CBD oil isn’t even legal in Idaho, and their outdated laws don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Marijuana Policy Project reports, “Newly elected Gov. Brad Little recently said he is not opposed to medical cannabis but doesn’t want it to be a “gateway into recreational.”

Shani Saxon is a freelance writer, editor and film story producer. A former editor at Vibe and digital content executive at BET, her favorite song is Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It”.