One student's story: the ordeal and stigma of a pot arrest
Published: Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 at 6:26 p.m.
The sound of a police siren still makes Alec Bowie nervous.
The University of Florida student, now a 21-year-old rising senior, was hanging out by a Gainesville neighborhood pool in 2010 when police arrived.
An officer found a small amount of marijuana — less than the misdemeanor limit of 20 grams — plus drug paraphernalia. Bowie was taken to jail on charges of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. “I didn't have several bags, and I wasn't trying to sell anything,” he said.
“It's really just a flower, and people don't like that you have this flower in your pocket,” the philosophy major said, comparing a marijuana plant to any harmless plant. “You can have a tulip in your pocket, but people just don't like when it's cannabis.”
After adjudication, Bowie spent a year taking regular drug tests, speaking to a counselor and completing drug treatment in Alachua County's Day Reporting program. The county program for pretrial defendants and probationers requires a $20 weekly fee.
Bowie estimates his misdemeanor drug charge cost him around $3,000 including bail and court fees.
“One thing about day reporting is they have a no-tolerance policy,” he said. “It's a step away from jail time. For a year, I was living on edge.”
Since then, Bowie has run into problems while applying for jobs. Bowie said he has to list his arrest on job applications.
“I tried to get one job, and on the application they asked if I had ever been arrested for anything,” he said. “I didn't get it because they didn't like people who had charges.”
Bowie said he has quit smoking marijuana. “When I got into UF, I stopped smoking,” he said. “It took having a future to make me stop smoking weed.”
Bowie said he believes in decriminalization of marijuana so people will not have to go through what he experienced.
“A lot of states handle it better — they charge for under a pound, but that might be too lenient,” he said. “A pound is a lot; 20 grams is nothing, and that shouldn't ruin someone's academic or political career. It shouldn't affect someone's record in any way, especially with a misdemeanor charge.”
Another 19-year-old UF student who requested anonymity says he has been smoking marijuana for about four years. He said he spends around $5 on a daily basis for marijuana. He estimates 20 grams would cost $300.
“I trust the people I get my pot from,” he said. “But there needs to be a safer way to get it.”
He said police should worry about larger issues than marijuana possession.
“It's not that big of a deal. They need to persecute real problems and persecute injustice,” he said.
He said he believes in marijuana legalization.
“People will keep using it whether it's legal or not,” he said. “Legalizing is better for the government and for business.”