THE BLOG

Marijuana Laws by State

02/24/2015 03:54 pm ET | Updated Apr 25, 2015

Asking the question, "What happens when a cop pulls you over for marijuana," is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. The crazy, Aunty Sally-like quilt of laws, rules and regulations which blanket America is another contributor to the difficulty in answering what appears to be a very simple, straightforward question.

First, what happens depends on where you are.

If you're two feet inside the Idaho/Washington state line, nothing will happen if you're on the Washington side. If you are on the Idaho side, you're looking at anything from a ticket to prison time depending on how much pot you have on you and what your prior convictions are.

If you are in California or Utah, and you're pulled over, with a certified, medical marijuana user get-out-of-jail-free card in your wallet, then nothing will happen. If you don't have the card, then well, you might as well be in Idaho, Virginia, North Dakota or the other states where pot is still considered taboo.

Second, it depends on who pulls you over

According to some surveys, roughly 10 percent of Americans report using marijuana in some form during the past month.
The odds are one-in-ten then that the cop that pulls you over has enjoyed a little downtime with pot and a beer, so if you're not too obnoxious with him, he might just let you go with a nod, a smile and an offer to share a joint the next time you're in town.

Be unlucky enough to be caught by one of the 90 percent of cops on duty that, statistically, haven't tried pot in the last month, well, you might as well be in Idaho.

To better understand the patchwork of laws in existence today, it may be helpful to know some of the legal history surrounding marijuana.

How did marijuana get to be illegal?

Most people probably think that scientific experiments, medical research and government hearings were all held to protect the good citizens from such a dangerous drug. In reality, it's much different. The people that voted on the legal outcome of the plant never had the facts but relied on information supplied with the express purpose of lying to the lawmakers.

The history of the criminalization of marijuana is replete with:

1. Racism
2. Protection of corporate profits
3. Mainstream media
4. Ignorant and incompetent Legislators - not to mention corrupt
5. Good old fashioned greed

For most of history, pot has been legal. It wasn't recently discovered - documented use goes back over before 8,000 BC and it was legal in the early 1900ss when Ronald Reagan was a kid growing up in Dixon, Illinois.

Marijuana - or hemp - has a wide range of uses. The earliest known cloth was hemp and the plant has been utilized for food, incense, cloth, rope and more. The plant was well known in America since the early 1600s, but the public didn't become aware of hemp as a recreational drug until 300 years later.

America's first marijuana law was written at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. The law commanded all farmers to grow hemp and for the next two centuries, a farmer could be jailed for not growing hemp during shortages.Hemp was such a crucial crop that the government wanted to promote and encourage its growth, and people responded. In the census of 1850, over 8300 hemp plantations were counted.

In the early 1900s, things started to change. During the Mexican revolution in 1910, American General Pershing went to the border to fight with Pancho Villa. Later in the same few years, small farmers started to resent the large farms that used cheaper Mexican, immigrant labor. Then the depression piled on and tensions increased as jobs and resources for welfare became scarce.

Marijuana was seen as the principle means of recreation by the Mexican immigrants. Legislators, tired of constituents yelling for them to do something, started looking at outlawing marijuana, a distinctively anti-Mexican and xenophobic act.

Swiftly, state legislatures followed suit as the medical field entered the fray with claims that marijuana would turn Mexicans - and later, in the 50s, African Americans - into drug-ravenous, sex-crazed monsters. The media, led by William Randolph Hearst, wanted to sell more newspapers, so they gleefully smacked their hands together and pumped the stories about marijuana-fueled mobs, rapes, wanton killings and other non-sense. The result? More papers flew out the door, publishers got richer, legislators were bribed to further tighten the laws and marijuana, as a no-no, entered history in America as a drug to be avoided, at all costs.

Marijuana has been an illegal drug for less than 1/10th of one percent of the total time it has been used by humans. The pendulum - and common sense - appear to be swinging in the other direction after decades of idiocy. But who knows precisely what will happen if a cop pulls you over and busts you for possession.