Appendix C - Case Histories
Two case histories have been selected for presentation in greater detail, Rather than being typical of the cannabis offenders interviewed, they illustrate sharply contrasting personal reactions to the experience of being made a cannabis criminal. Adolescent users have been identified as a group at particular risk because of potential adverse consequences arising both from health effects and criminalization. "Daniel" and "Robert," as I have named them, were both 16 when arrested - barely adults in terms of the criminal justice system. Both came from similar home backgrounds, had never been in trouble before the marijuana arrest, received the same sentence, and were not charged with any new offenses in the year following their court appearances. However, one was affected by the experience much more than the other.
Daniel was a high school student with a summer job who lived at home with both parents. His first experience with smoking marijuana occurred earlier on the same day he was arrested. He received a conditional discharge with a probation requirement. Some of his friends had tried cannabis but none was "into it heavy" and none had ever been arrested. Daniel reported no experience whatsoever with any other illicit drugs, nor any desire to try them. He described his parents as "stunned" to learn of his arrest, and Daniel considered telling them he had to go to court as the worst part of the whole experience. He thought of himself as a criminal and remarked, "I just feel guilty about it." He also believed that his parents, and his friends too in a way, regarded him as a criminal, as did his boss, the judge, and the police. In a telephone contact four months after he was sentenced, Daniel said he still thought about what had happened "Most of the time."
One year later he had not used marijuana since the day he was caught. His opinion was that marijuana should be illegal and that it was "a dangerous drug" with few or any good effects. He considered it about as dangerous as alcohol. Daniel acknowledged continuing to think of himself as a criminal in the post-trial year, but that, "Now I'm off probation and can write for a pardon, I feel differently about it." On the anniversary of his arrest, he and his friends stayed at home, didn't go anywhere, and talked about it for the only time in several months.
He had gone once a month to see the probation officer and did not miss any appointments, "Even one day in a blizzard when I nearly froze." While continuing at school he had again had a summer job, in part so that he would "be around and my parents would know where I was." They didn't mention his arrest and court experience, but he still sensed their disapproval at times. He expected employers to be prejudiced against someone with a record and hoped that getting a pardon would help.
Robert had first tried marijuana at age 14 and reported using it almost daily in the year before his arrest. He was employed and lived at home with both parents. His sentence was a conditional discharge with a probation requirement. He described all his friends as regular cannabis users, three with criminal records for cannabis. In the past, he had experimented with other drugs but "not any more" and would not try injecting any drug. His parents knew of his arrest and his mother accompanied him to court. Robert did not think of himself as a criminal at all and, in his view, neither did his parents or his friends. His boss "might" and the judge and police "definitely" did regard him that way, he thought. He felt that the worst thing about the whole experience was getting probation with the attendant restrictions. His feelings about the experience four months later were that "it's over and done with."
One year after court Robert was still using cannabis on a near daily basis. He emphasized that he never used it while working, only in his leisure time. His attitude to the cannabis prohibition was one of strong disagreement. He thought that cannabis was much less dangerous than alcohol, but that not enough was known yet to judge its health effects. "If I find something wrong with it I'll put a stop to it, but I don't find anything wrong with it [now]." Robert said he never thought about his court experience and he didn't consider himself a criminal nor did his parents or his friends. He described his parents' attitude to marijuana as "'don't smoke it in the house - keep it out. "I guess they'd rather I didn't but they can't say 'don't do it."'
Robert's attitude to probation was to attempt to ignore it as much as was possible. He had gone a few times, missed several appointments, went once in response to a call from the probation officer, then missed several more. Robert was still working with the same company, but had been promoted to a different position. He had been saving money and was planning an extended trip abroad. In the year since his trial he had been very cautious about cannabis use and had succeeded in avoiding further arrests. He intended to apply for a pardon, but didn't think a record for only cannabis possession would be all that important to most employers.