High Court Upholds Marijuana Sentence

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The Nevada Supreme Court has refused to throw out a one-year jail sentence given an Elko County man convicted of conspiring to possess a small amount of marijuana.

Justices rejected arguments by Ricky James Wallace that his District Court sentence represents cruel and unusual punishment given the 2001 Legislature's decision to reduce the felony crime of marijuana possession to a misdemeanor punishable by a $600 fine and no jail time.

In rejecting that argument, Justices Nancy Becker, Miriam Shearing and Mark Gibbons said Wednesday that regardless of the severity of the sentence, it wasn't cruel and unusual punishment as outlined in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

A sentence is not cruel and unusual unless it is "so reasonably disproportionate to the offense as to shock the conscience," according to the court.

Justices noted that Wallace was sentenced just before the law making marijuana possession a misdemeanor offense took effect on Oct. 1, 2001, and legislators didn't make the law apply retroactively. They also pointed out Wallace pleaded guilty to the gross misdemeanor crime of conspiracy to possess marijuana, not to marijuana possession.

During hearings in 2001 when the Legislature amended the marijuana law, witnesses contended the old law wasn't followed consistently throughout the state. Lawmakers were told judges in urban areas typically changed the felony crime to misdemeanor offenses or ordered drug rehabilitation to avoid any sentences.

But in rural areas some judges continued to apply the full force of the law. The sentence Wallace got was the maximum under the gross misdemeanor crime of conspiracy to possess marijuana.

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About Marijuana

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in America today. The term marijuana refers to the leaves and flowering tops of the cannabis plant.

A tobacco-like substance produced by drying the leaves and flowering tops of the cannabis plant, marijuana varies significantly in its potency, depending on the source and selection of plant materials used.

Sinsemilla, which is derived from the un-pollinated female cannabis plant, and hashish, the resinous material of the cannabis plant, are popular with users because of their high concentration of THC. THC is believed to be the chemical responsible for most of the psychoactive effects of the plant.

Marijuana is usually smoked in the form of loosely rolled cigarettes called joints or hollowed-out commercial cigars called blunts.

Joints and blunts may be laced with a number of adulterants including phencyclidine (PCP), substantially altering the effects and toxicity of these products. Street names for marijuana include pot, grass, weed, mary jane, acupulco gold, and reefer.

Although marijuana grown in the United States was once considered inferior because of its low concentration of THC, advancements in plant selection and cultivation have resulted in highly potent domestic marijuana.

For example, the average THC content of U.S.-produced sinsemilla has risen from 3.2 percent in 1977 to 12.8 percent in 1997.

Marijuana contains known toxins and cancer-causing chemicals that are stored in fat cells of users for up to several months.

Marijuana users experience the same health problems as tobacco smokers, such as bronchitis, emphysema, and bronchial asthma.

Some of the effects of marijuana use also include increased heart rate, dryness of the mouth, reddening of the eyes, impaired motor skills and concentration, and frequent hunger.

Extended use increases risk to the lungs and reproductive system, as well as suppression of the immune system. Occasionally, hallucinations, fantasies, and paranoia are reported.

Marijuana Use

The number of marijuana-related emergency room episodes, which are tracked by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), has steadily increased from 15,706 in 1990, to 87,150 in 1999.

Many of these visits can be attributed to the fact that the potency of marijuana has also increased during that same time period.

The 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) estimated that 5.1 percent (11.2 million) of the population aged twelve and older were monthly marijuana or hashish users, which is the same rate as in 1991 but considerably lower than the rate of 13.2 percent in 1979.

NHSDA also found that the number of first-time marijuana users in 1998 (2.3 million) increased significantly compared to 1989 (1.4 million).

In addition, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's 1998 Drug Control Strategy, marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug in the United States; approximately three-quarters (77percent) of current illegal drug users used marijuana or hashish in 1996.

Source: http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/marijuana.htm (U.S. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration).